Bionics is the science of constructing artificial systems that have some of the characteristics of living systems. This idea can be seen, for example, with artificial limbs and the slow transformation of wooden legs and steel arms into bionic devices that can move and feel more similar to natural body parts.
An early Iron Age prosthetic toe (circa 950 BC) made of leather and wood was found on an Egyptian mummy at the graveyard hill of Sheikh ‘Abd el-Qurna, Egypt.
One of the earliest known prosthetic limbs, an artificial leg, was found in a grave in Capua, Italy, dating from the Roman Empire (circa 300 BC).
The prosthesis was housed in the Royal Museum of Surgeons, London, until it was destroyed by in a bombing raid during World War II. A replica is now kept at the London Science Museum.
Gotz Von Berlichingen (1480-1562), a German mercenary knight, wore a mechanical prosthetic hand made of iron, capable of grasping objects using a ratchet mechanism.
The world’s first electronic prosthetic arm, the Edinburgh Modular Arm System (EMAS), was fitted to Campbell Aird in 1993. Made of metal and plastic, it weighed only 4 lbs. In 2007, a spin-off from EMAS launched the i-Limb, the first prosthetic hand with individually-articulating fingers.
Current prosthetic technology is moving closer to human-like strength and dexterity, in addition to high-resolution sensation, anthropomorphic appearance and closed-loop control using neural interface technology. Recent advances include John Hopkins’ DARPA-funded modular prosthetic limb, with state-of-the-art control and range of motion, in addition to osseointegration (or bone-anchoring), where the prosthesis is connected directly to the bone, nerves and muscles of the patient. Advances in neural integration are delivering better control of prosthetic limbs to patients, for example using spinal or intracortical interfaces.