A “bionic man” was the idea behind 1970s science fiction television show “The Six Million Dollar Man“. The show followed the adventures of a character named Steve Austin, a former astronaut whose body was rebuilt using synthetic parts after he nearly died. Forty years later and Science fiction has become science fact (well, almost) as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was the venue for London’s Shadow Robot Co “bionic man”.
The first robot of its kind to walk and talk, built entirely out of synthetic body parts made his Washington debut on Thursday (The robot made its U.S. debut previously at New York’s Comic Con convention).
London’s Shadow Robot Co was present to showcase medical breakthroughs in bionic body parts and artificial organs. Museum director John Dailey said “This is not a gimmick. This is a real science development”. The 170-pound (77-kg) 6-foot-tall (1.83 meter), robot is the subject of a one-hour Smithsonian Channel documentary, “The Incredible Bionic Man,” aired on Sunday.
The robot on display at the museum cost $1 million and was made from 28 different artificial body parts on loan from biomedical innovators. They include a pancreas, lungs, spleen and circulatory system. Most of these parts were early design prototypes. Assembly began in August 2012 and took three months to finish.
Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and host of the documentary said, “The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today – one piece. If you did that, what would it look like?” The robot was modelled after the psychologist, who was born without a hand and subsequently relies on a synthetic limb. He showcased the bionic man by having it take a few steps and also by running artificial blood through its see-through circulatory system.
The robot has a motionless face and has almost no skin. The “bionic man” was controlled remotely from a computer with Bluetooth wireless connections being used to operate its limbs. The bionic creation’s artificial intelligence is limited to a chatbot computer program, similar to the digital assistant Siri on the Apple iPhone. “The people who made it decided to program it with the personality of a 13-year-old boy from the Ukraine…So, he’s not really the most polite of people to have a conversation with.” said Robert Warburton, a design engineer for Shadow Robot.
If you are in Washington, then why not go and see this robotic marvel for yourself. It will be on display at the museum throughout the fall.