Frank the bionic man
The first ever “bionic man” built completely out of artificial body parts made his Washington debut at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum late October.
Frankenstein, or Frank for short, is a 6ft (1.83m) tall robot with a synthetic human face, created by Shadow Robot Co in London to illustrate medical advancement in prosthetics at the Incredible Bionic Man exhibition. “This is not a gimmick,” announced the museum’s director John Dailey. “This is a real science development.”
Shadow Robot Co roboticists Rich Walker and Matthew Godden put Frank together. “Our job was to take delivery of a large collection of body parts, and over a frantic six weeks turn those parts into a bionic man,” said Mr Walker.
Mr Walker explained that while it is standard practice to attach a prosthetic body part to a person who is missing that part, he and Mr Godden had to put the person together for the prosthetic parts.
Frank was modelled on Dr Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Dr Meyer was born without one of his hands and now relies on one of the world’s most advanced artificial limbs, with a wrist that fully rotates and motors in each finger.
The bionic man also sports robotic ankles and feet which were designed and worn by Hugh Herr, a bioengineer from MIT’s Media Lab, who got caught in a blizzard when he was a teenager and tragically lost his legs, but Frank supports his prosthetic legs with an exoskeleton.
Aside from a liver, stomach and intestines that are too complicated to make in a lab, Frank has nearly a full set of artificial organs that have been donated from various research centres all over the world; and even blood. Frank also boasts 200 processors, and he is covered in millions of sensors that can identify touch and temperature change.
“The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today, in one piece. If you did that, what would it look like?” said Dr Meyer.
Shadow Robot design engineer Robert Warburton said that Frank’s artificial intelligence is restricted to a chatbox computer programme, like Siri on the iPhone, and programmers gave Frank the personality of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. “He’s not really the most polite of people to have a conversation with,” laughs Mr Warburton.
Some people may be worried about the kinds of advances achieved by creating Frank, but Dr Meyer reassures the critics: “The goal is not to replace the human being. The ultimate goal is to provide technology to fix a broken person.”