The Augmented Life or the $6M Man Becomes the $6K Man

Springactive's Exoskeleton at CES 2012
Springactive's Exoskeleton at CES 2012

Steve Austin was a hero for those of us in the 1970s who wished to be, “Better than than he was before.  Better, stronger, faster.”  The $6 Million Dollar Man was science fiction but without weird space alien creatures.  Kids on the playground could relate, as the main character was a regular person, but his super-human powers (e.g. superior vision, amazing strength, could communicate wirelessly with his commander, etc.) derived from the weaving of advanced electronics along with “bionics”; an integration of the mechanical with the body to enhance Austin’s body parts.

Almost 40 years later, the Eureka exhibition at CES showed technologies that promise to make many of the elements of the $6 Million Man, an affordable reality.  To be clear, some of these technologies are not yet in production, but they are to the point where the companies behind them are looking at licensing their technologies to established entities.

  • Perpetua
    Perpetua

    Look Ma, No Batteries – Perpetua Power Source Technologies demonstrated a wearable heater-exchange system that generates electricity from the heat of the human body.  This sort of technology could be a boon for embedding medical sensors or pacemakers, eliminating the need for batteries.

  • Everyone Hears Voices – Although established for a while and not part of the Eureka display, Bluetooth-enabled hearing-aid solutions, such as the CES 2012 award-winning Bluetooth streamer and remote from Siemens, could be a great application for the Perpetua technology.  Working with standard Bluetooth transmitters, literally anyone can have their radio (or multiple cell phone conversations) delivered directly to CICs (Completely in the Canal hearing aids), bypassing the unsightly external headset.
  • Click to Watch Video
    Click to Watch Video

    I Can See for Inches and MilesInnovega showed nanotechnology designed into contact lenses that, when combined with a special set of glasses, allows one to focus close to read a heads-up display projected on the glasses, while still being able to through the transparent lenses.  Other potential applications include delivery of full-field 3D or for 360 degree gaming experience (see this video for an explanation of the technology from Randall Sprague, CTO of Innovega).

  • Strong Without Working OutSpringactive, Inc. produces an exoskeleton that has found a home in the military.  It allows a soldier to carry 300 pounds for miles and miles by leveraging advanced mechanics.  This company is also putting its technology to work in other applications, such as prosthetics.  Like Perpetua, they also have a human-generated power solution (3 to 6 Watts of continuous power), but Springactive’s is based on converting motion to electricity.
  • Brain Wave TV at Haier
    Brain Wave TV - Haier

    Mind Control – In their booth on the main CES show floor (this demonstration wasn’t part of the Eureka Exhibits) Haier demonstrated Brain Wave TV.  Brain Wave TV consists of a head-band that uses one’s brain waves to control a TV (or philosophically speaking, does the TV control the person?).  From this reporter’s brief observation, it wasn’t clear how well it worked or how practical it would be in the real-world, but versions of this type of product have been available for several years for gaming applications.

Beyond the larger question of how society will deal with a world where machine and human become intertwined in ways that are unimaginable, what are the implications for the telecom provider as the developments described above become commercially viable?

Clearly, the Personal Area Network embodied in devices that are part of the body has to be wireless.  The question will be what sort of range will be required; will it be measured in tens of feet or tens of miles?

Bandwidth requirements will probably increase as new applications will generate more data (e.g. real-time recording of health data).  Reliability will also be a necessity, especially for those apps that are life-critical, and there may have to be redundancy in some cases.  Security will become another factor that has to be an integral to the design (the 1981 Chevy Chase movie Modern Problems provides a humorous illustration of the possible consequences of poor security of human control).

These are some of the questions that Communications Service Providers need to ask, as technologies that were once science fiction are on the cusp of a consumer reality – a reality that, unlike the $6 Million Man, could be more like the $6,000 person and could represent a new mass market and change the way we live and what it means to live.

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