“Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability”
— Hugh Herr
Bionics describes all devices and prosthetics that replace a body part or organ to recover, improve or expand an individual’s functions [1-3]. Most were aesthetic ‘replacements’ in the past, but nowadays we have bionic prosthetics and exoskeletons that combine advanced technologies to expand the mobility of the user. Bionics come in many shapes and sizes, including limbs, eyes, ears and organs [4, 5]. Different scientists are currently developing a fully bionic human who may function better than the original human . This is also known as human augmentation. Examples include implants that allow us to detect a magnetic field or electromagnetic radiation and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) through which we can operate a prosthetic with nothing but our brain signals [5-8].
Application & benefits
Bionics give back certain functions and indirectly offer more autonomy to the user . Patients in the rehabilitation phase and users in the chronic phase can both benefit from bionics: the devices can serve to train and improve skills or to compensate for the definitive loss of capabilities . Applications allow users to stay active, independent and healthy for longer while mitigating the negative impact of disabilities and amputations . The user’s psychosocial condition is improved because they no longer have the feeling of ‘getting left behind’ .
In 2020, the global market value of bionics amounted to $16.5 million. This amount is expected to grow to $27 million by 2026 . Part of the growth is caused by technological innovation, an increasing number of disabilities and failing organs and the high number of incidents that lead to amputations. The total number of cochlear implants, for example, exceeded 600,000 globally by 2020 . Interestingly, the global Covid-19 outbreak had a negative impact on the market: the production of bionic implants dropped during the corona crisis to the detriment of market growth . In addition, certain treatments had to be stopped which contributed to the negative impact of the coronavirus on this market. Despite the negative trend, the total market value is expected to grow substantially in the years ahead.
Increased awareness and growing acceptance
Changing healthcare needs
Growing investments in healthcare technology
High costs (development, purchase, and maintenance)
Immaturity of the application
Bionics used for patient recovery bear few ethical considerations. However, the same does not apply to human augmentation. One such consideration would be the question of what makes a human ‘human’. In addition, the technology is highly complex and requires developers to make large investments. The interest in bionics is growing due to improved reliability and scalability. Changing healthcare needs, for example due to a growing number of disabilities, contribute to the positive development of the market as well.
Bionics applications are integrating into our everyday lives more and more and their applications can make a major difference for individual users. Developments in bionics contribute to the evolution of the bionic human, though barriers remain in terms of technical challenges and ethical considerations.
- del Rio Carral, M., Bourqui, V., Vuilleumier, N. et al., Are Functional Measures Sufficient to Capture Acceptance? A Qualitative Study on Lower Limb Exoskeleton Use for Older People. Int J of Soc Robotics, 2021
- O’Connor, S., Exoskeletons in Nursing and Healthcare: A Bionic Future. Clinical Nursing Research, 2021.
- Future MR., Global Robotics Prostethics Markets Research Report-Forecast to 2027, 2019
- Dom G., Artificial organs: We’re entering an era where transplants are obsolete, 2018
- Straiton, J., Neural–digital interfaces: creating bionic humans, Biotechniques, 2020. 69(3).
- Harrison I, Warwick K, Ruiz V., Subdermal Magnetic Implants: An Experimental Study, Cybernetics and System, 2018;49(2):122-50
- Shih JJ, Krusienski DJ, Wolpaw JR., Brain-Computer Interfaces in Medicine, 2012
- Rosenfeld JV, Wong YT., Neurobionics and the brain-computer interface: current applications and future horizons, Med J Aust, 2017;206(8):363-8.
- Frangoul A, How the business of bionics is changing lives, CNBC.com St., 2013
- Nes, I.J.W. van, Faber, W.X.M., Mijl Dekker, M.M.A. van der, Rijken, H. & Keijsers, N., Het exoskelet in de dwarslaesie- revalidatie: stand van zaken, Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Revalidatiegeneeskunde, 2018.
- Hewitt D., Advantages of prosthetic legs, 2015 [Available from: https://www.2bstronger.com/article/gaining-weight/advantages-of-prosthetic-legs-14984.html]
- Mordor Intelligence, BIONICS MARKET – GROWTH, TRENDS, COVID-19 IMPACT, AND FORECASTS (2021 – 2026), 2020 [Available from https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/bionics-market]
- Cochlear, Cochlear Limited Strategy Overview 2020, 2020 [Available from https://www.cochlear.com/8a9a599c-c594-496f-af35-c50187cb2453/2020StrategyOverview.pdf?MOD=AJPERES&CONVERT_TO=url&CACHEID=ROOTWORKSPACE-8a9a599c-c594-496f-af35-c50187cb2453-nf-V7dl]