The Body Shop

As humanity battles the Ringhead aliens in our Cold War series, they’re going to suffer losses and injury, same as war in any era.

For most of the wounded vets in our story, medical science can put them back in the field with little downtime with skin, organs, and whole limbs printed from custom stem cell bio-matter laid down with medical grade 3D printers.

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Shrapnel tore through your liver? We can print you a replacement in a few hours.

Set off that thermobaric grenade a little too close for comfort? We can print yards of skin to set you back to rights. If you’re not picky about color, we’ve already got reserves in the cooler for you.

Lost an arm or a leg to a Ringhead on a rampage? We’ll lay you down in a state of the art hyperbaric healing chamber, complete with picometer resolution scanning to match your replacement to the remaining limb.

Lost both? Pick from our library of standard limbs, which can be customized to match stature and skin tones.

Most organs can be printed in less than a day. In the field, a portable unit can be used to regrow skin and major vessels to triage and stabilize until the team returns to base. Limbs are printed over the course of one to two weeks, depending on the severity and level of amputation.

(This was inspired by a great article on How Stuff Works. Seriously, none of this stuff is that far off right now.)

Is your brain safe from attack?

I listen to a few podcasts, and one of my favorites is Stuff to Blow Your Mind. They recently did a great show on neurosecurity, and spent about a good portion of the show talking about the possibility of hacking prosthetics!

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At first glance, I thought they were going to talk about the neural hacking in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, where one of the characters figures out how to access the brain’s underlying ‘machine language’ and subvert your learned, cultural programming. Alas, the show is much more practical, speaking to present day issues, and a discussion of near-future aspects of what is sure to be a prevalent problem in our ever-wireless society.

While I was a little bummed that they didn’t talk about Snow Crash, I was thrilled to hear them talking about quite a few prosthetic devices I have a lot of experience with. They mentioned both the iLimb hand, and the Lynx knee-ankle system, both of which can connect via Bluetooth to your phone to make everyday adjustments.

And for the most part, they got it right. They do make the mistake of referring to the prostheses as “mind controlled” which isn’t quite right. What we have currently is prostheses that are controlled by reading the muscle signals in the remnant limbs.

The real potential for hacking is when the man/machine interface really achieves direct brain control. Then you’ve got something implanted in you that is directly reading your brain signals, and sending sensory data back to your brain as well. (A future post on feedback from your prosthesis!) Having that transceiver in your head opens up a whole world of worrying possibilities, from scanning your mind for data, to influencing you to act in certain ways.

Would you do it? Would you take a neural implant that augments your natural abilities, or returns the function of a lost or damaged limb? Is the risk worth the reward?

Control Strategy

In our upcoming Cold War series, the men and women of the Union Wolves overcome harrowing injuries with the help of some incredible prosthetic devices. Indeed, futuristic prostheses have long been a staple of sci-fi and pop culture.

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To give you and idea of how far we have to go, here’s an example of some of the fanciest tech we have available to us today:

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A little hard to see, but that’s a silicone socket embedded with a net of surface electrodes. While the mechanisms of prosthetic components have advanced steadily, it hasn’t been until recently that options for control strategies have really taken off.

The system pictured above reads the entirety of the limb’s muscle signals to allow the user to control the prosthesis. It’s as close as we can come right now to reading the nerve signals in a publicly available system. Combining pattern recognition with machine learning allows this system to make the use of the prosthesis as intuitive as possible.

It’s a long way from direct control, but it’s still a quantum leap over what we had to work with up until about five years ago. Recent developments have shown us that direct nerve control of a prosthesis is viable, and trials are beginning for artificial limbs that can also provide sensory feedback.

As nerve implants get smaller and smaller we come closer to powered exoskeletons (All You Need Is Kill, Starship Troopers), virtual and augmented reality (The Matrix, Inception, Avatar), and the seamless integration of man and machine (Ghost in the Shell.)