Augmentation: Not Your Father’s Nip Tuck

Ok, you’ve been patient with me and I appreciate it. I admit to straying a bit from the sub-title of my blog “Technology Observations…” for the past 2-3 months. A better sub-title for recent posts would be a “technologist’s observations about community and creativity.”

But, it’s time to return to the core. So, if you have enjoyed the community and creativity posts, then mosey on over to the blog at LifetimeValue(dot)Me. This is the venture where I’ll continue writing about tools, services, and examples for making strategic investments in your communities.

Back to the subject at hand, I want to offer updates to three different but related posts in “The BroadBrush Update” over the past year. I believe them related because they all describe some aspect of a future, augmented human capacity. I’m a big believer in this augmentation trend, because of the natural human desire we all possess to extend our healthy lives as long as reasonably possible.

The first update concerns exoskeletons, which I wrote about in a post a year ago entitled “Grandpa Ironman.”  The update is the announcement of two Honda products based on technology the company invented with work on its Asimo line of robots. The two products are the Stride Management Assist and the Bodyweight Support Assist, the latter demonstrated in the video below.

At first glance the cartoonish nature of the video and the unwieldy nature of the device itself may make it hard to be taken seriously. But the potential freedom that such a device can provide people with the need for a boost in leg strength should be taken very seriously. This comment I found on a technology hub where the Honda devices were being discussed says it all:

I am 82 years old and totally healthy except my legs are getting weak and I have difficulty getting up the stairs. I live alone and I do not want to move, and this looks like an ideal solution. Where can I get one and how much?

The second update concerns vision systems. In a post I wrote entitled “Adventures in Reality,” I speculated about GPS-enabled mobile phones, using their on-board cameras, that could provide nearly zero-latency data streams of a person’s surroundings. No more need for speculation – it’s already here.

A recent issue of Time magazine brought to attention Raimo van der Klein, one of a trio of Dutch inventors who created Layar, the augmented reality browser and company of the same name (in the photo at the beginning of this post).  The browser, as well as a growing host of “layers” for Layar are available free on the iPhone. Check them out.

The third update is related to advances in materials. I wrote a post earlier this year on “Bio-printing” in which I talked about the ability to print atomic-sized transistors and even human tissue.

Recently, I ran across a video of a venture called Fabrican, which is a sprayable fabric created by particle engineer Paul Luckham and fashion designer Manel Torres. Below is a video of the fabric being created on a female model.

While this update may stretch the imagination the most in terms of practical implications, of the three updates I’ve shared, don’t judge too fast. Just start thinking about the ability to augment the sprayable materials with various pharmaceutical and health treatments, and you can quickly begin to imagine the life-extending possibilities of such a technology.

Grandpa Iron Man

Not long ago, I wrote about opportunities in aging. The main point of the prior post was that there will be many business opportunities – ranging from the mundane to the esoteric – that will emerge as the population ages.

Somewhere in this range, I would put the potential for powered exoskeletons (or exos) to hit the mainstream consciousness. They have already tickled our entertainment fancy in recent memory, with the popularity of 2008’s Iron Man movie.  But, for a Youtube primer on the variety of real-life exoskeletons that are in circulation today, take a quick tour of the following:

I listed them, based on personal opinion, in the order of least likely to be used by the average citizen to most potential for mainstream adoption, with something like the BB technology getting my nod as the closest to being used by someone in the near future.

When you consider that there are half a million knee operations a year, trending to three million in the U.S. in the next couple of decades, the notion of consumer exos makes sense. Add age to injury, with another baby boomer reaching age 60 every seven seconds, and the population of potential consumers gets sizeable rapidly.

Personally, I’m excited about the potential for the elderly, injured, or afflicted (I grew up with a mom who was mobility impaired by MS) to have the option to strap on an exoskeleton-style device like a version of one of the BB models and be able to gain a measure of mobility that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Continued developments in areas like specialized microprocessors and lightweight nanotechnology-based materials lead me to believe that it’s not a question of “if it will happen” but “when.”