Striving for perfection is a universal characteristic found in human nature. Although we’re far from perfect, technological innovations have improved our lives in so many ways, and thanks to medical advances, we live longer than our ancestors. Not only did technology extend our life expectancy, but it also changed how we communicate, work, and learn. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, as technology can benefit humanity in so many ways. As innovations continue to blur the lines between humans and machines, we can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have our bodies and minds enhanced with technology. Will it make us closer to becoming superhumans?

Researchers have made great technological leaps over the past couple of years, especially when it comes to robotic solutions. It’s no longer strange to see a human working alongside a robot. Since robots have proved effective in assisting humans, scientists are taking a step further and developing robots that will enhance our current capabilities and eventually become a part of us. Moreover, robots could help solve complex medical issues and completely revolutionize the healthcare industry.

This low-cost robotic arm could change the lives of the disabled

One such innovation was developed by an engineering student from the Pham Van Dong University in Vietnam. The 23-year-old Ngo Van Det created a robotic arm designed for people with disabilities. The arm took eight months to develop, and it’s made from resin, which is significantly cheaper than other materials used for prosthetics. In fact, similar products on the market can cost thousands of dollars, while Det’s innovation costs around $130. This robotic solution is ideal for Vietnamese veterans and accident victims who are disabled and usually can’t afford to buy expensive prosthetics. This innovation is also equipped with pressure sensors connected to the user’s biceps. Once the biceps move, the movement triggers the sensors to send a signal to the rest of the robotic arm. And thanks to its robotic fingers, users can easily grasp items with varying degrees of pressure. During testing, Det’s solution did extremely well. Le Quang Trong, a disabled person who tried the robotic arm, says it’s much better than the traditional prosthetic arm he used previously.

Treating an inborn condition with an implantable robot

A group of researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital also made a significant contribution to the world of robotics. The team developed an implantable robot designed to treat children suffering from esophageal atresia, a condition in which a baby is born with a disconnected esophagus. If not treated correctly and on time, it can lead to death. The traditional procedure requires surgeons to install long sutures on both ends of the esophagus. These sutures should gently stretch the esophagus, until its ends are long enough to get stitched together. However, after the sutures are installed, the child needs to be kept on sedatives to make sure the sutures stay in place. The process, which can take several weeks, is costly, because the child requires intensive care. Plus, such a long use of sedatives can lead to further complications.

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All this encouraged the researchers to come up with a better alternative. They developed an implantable robot made from waterproof silicone rubber. The robot consists of two metal rings that attach to the esophagus. As these rings spread apart, they elongate the tissue and extend the esophagus. The robot is connected to a WiFi controller placed on the child’s back, thanks to which doctors can apply “adjustable traction forces to the rings, slowly and steadily pulling the tissue in the desired direction”. This innovation has already been tested on pigs, where it managed to stretch the animals’ esophagus without disrupting their health.

AI as a memory booster

Besides implantable robots, scientists are also experimenting with advanced neural implants to improve our memory. Embedded with artificial intelligence (AI), such technology could boost our brain performance and potentially make us smarter. At least that’s what researchers from the University of Pennsylvania believe. Their project, published in the journal Nature Communications, reveals that AI could make our brains work faster and more efficiently.

The researchers conducted an experiment involving 25 respondents suffering from epilepsy. Each patient had between 100 and 200 electrodes installed in their brain. The team first monitored the patients’ neural activity while they were given memory tasks. All the data was then collected and used to create an AI-based algorithm capable of predicting whether the patient’s brain will remember the information presented. Once the algorithm shows that the patient is unlikely to remember specific information, it triggers “precisely timed pulses of electric charge to the brain”, which boost “the brain’s capability to act”. As a result, patients who were given AI stimulation had 15 per cent better results than those who didn’t. The team involved in the project hopes their discovery will lead to bigger developments in AI research and help scientists to create powerful systems to enhance the brain’s capabilities even further.

While some believe machines will take over the world, making humans useless, the reality presents a different picture. Technologies such as AI and robotics won’t destroy us. Instead, these innovations have great potential to augment our capabilities and make our lives better. And if you thought existing developments are impressive, wait to see what the future holds.


Author: Richard van Hooijdonk

International keynote speaker, trend watcher and futurist Richard van Hooijdonk offers inspiring lectures on how technology impacts the way we live, work and do business. Over 420,000 people have already attended his renowned inspiration sessions, in the Netherlands as well as abroad. He works together with RTL television and presents the weekly radio program ‘Mindshift’ on BNR news radio. Van Hooijdonk is also a guest lecturer at Nyenrode and Erasmus Universities.



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