Several near term real life technologies in exoskeletons, affordable and dextrous robotic arms and brain computer interfaces to prosthetics will have big real world impact. These technologies also would have the amusing side effect of enabling real world analogs of Doctor Octopus (comic book villain who fights Spiderman and has four brain controlled robotic arms) or General Grievous from Star Wars (a mostly robotic cyborg who has up to four brain controlled robotic arms. There has already been a person controlling a wheel chair mounted robotic arm and moving it with brain interface. The other work indicates that this will become available to thousands by 2020.
The Walk Again Project’s central goal is to develop and implement the first BMI (brain-machine interface) capable of restoring full mobility to patients suffering from a severe degree of paralysis. This lofty goal will be achieved by building a neuroprosthetic device that uses a BMI as its core, allowing the patients to capture and use their own voluntary brain activity to control the movements of a full-body prosthetic device. This “wearable robot,” also known as an “exoskeleton,” will be designed to sustain and carry the patient’s body according to his or her mental will. The specific Walk Again Project goal is that on the opening day of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, they hope to send a young quadriplegic striding out to midfield to open the games, suited up in the “prosthetic exoskeleton” they aim to build.
So around 2015-2020 there should be commercial availability of brain controlled prosthetics.
Lockheed HULC (lowerbody) exoskeleton Army’s field tests and trials, probably in 2014 or 2015, will be followed by widespread commercial production of powered exoskeletons. The Deployment of exoskeletons in commercial sectors will probably remain quite limited for another decade or so, due to their high cost (more than $25,000 per suit). There will be about 11,000 exoskeletons by 2020.
They help a soldier to life 200 pounds without strain, currently need about 1000 watts of power. The HULC can assist speed marching at up to 7 mph reduces this somewhat; a battery-draining “burst” at 10mph is the maximum speed. A soldier with a pack would normally go at 3 mph maximum and cover 10-12 miles in a day. A better power supply would allow the burst mode to be used more and speed to be 10 mph and coverage to be 200 miles in day. Soldiers could also carry lightweight foldable electric scooters on their exoskeleton that would enable 60-100 mph on roads. If the bike had motocross like capabilities it could still go about 30-60 mph on rougher terrain.
Heavy riot shields can be mounted on the HULC exoskeleton, so robotic arms could also be attached and they could have the brain computer interface.
Heartland Robotics’s goal is to introduce robots into places that have not been automated before, making manufacturers more efficient, their workers more productive and keeping jobs from migrating to low-cost regions.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.