The onward march of technology has accelerated hugely in the last few decades in virtually every area so advances that may have seemed unimaginable 30 years ago may seem common place today. For example, who could have imagined, in 1980, that we’d be carrying around mobile phones that could send and receive emails to anywhere in the world?
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As well as communications, medicine is a field in which enormous leaps and bounds have been made in using technology to provide solutions that would previously have been beyond anyone’s imagination.
To take a piece of technology that was revolutionary when it was first introduced – the heart pacemaker – new developments mean that these are becoming more and more sophisticated – as well as being smaller and much more reliable.
Recent reports have stated that the latest versions of the device will be able to alter the rate of the heart to synchronise with the patient’s breathing rate. Current technology means that at the moment the heartbeat can be ‘too regular’ which in some case can lead to heart failure.
Although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have undoubtedly taken a great toll in terms of the injuries sustained and lives lost by service men and women, one area that has benefited from the conflicts has been the design and manufacture of prosthetic limbs. Unlike the unwieldy devices provided for amputees in the Second World War the latest generation of artificial arms and legs are more sophisticated than ever before, as well as being made from ultra light and ultra strong materials like carbon fibre and titanium.
Other technological advances include using Bluetooth technology to link pairs of legs to control their stride, pressure and speed in of movement.
In the Rehabilitation Centre of Chicago a great deal of work is also being carried out to develop ‘Intelligent Bionics’ or ones that can be controlled using the brain power of the wearer just as real body parts would be. Linked to this there are also great strides being made in developing artificial hands that can transmit real sensations to their wearer; for example, when they pick up a hot or cold object.
A sense of another kind that has enjoyed great technical advances is eyesight. In July 2015 surgeons in Manchester successfully inserted a ‘bionic’ eye into the retina of an 80â€yearâ€old man suffering from macular degeneration. It works by receiving signals from a special pair of glasses and transmitting them directly to the visual receptor area of his brain.
Hearing, too, is another sense that is being helped by science with ever more discreet solutions for people who suffer from hearing problems. Using digital technology and miniaturisation means that the modern generation of hearing aids can be virtually undetectable by anyone except the wearer, helping to reduce the stigma that many people with hearing problems can so often feel.
With new developments and advances seemingly being made every day some experts are already speculating about just how far we will be able to go with replacing body parts with mechanical alternatives. And while we may still be quite a way off being able to replace every single body part we’re already well on the way.