'Bionic man' makes debut at Washington's Air and Space Museum

Thu Oct 17, 2013 4:14pm EDT
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By Lacey Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A first-ever walking, talking "bionic man" built entirely out of synthetic body parts made his Washington debut on Thursday.

The robot with a human face unveiled at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum was built by London's Shadow Robot Co to showcase medical breakthroughs in bionic body parts and artificial organs.

"This is not a gimmick. This is a real science development," museum director John Dailey said.

The 6-foot-tall (1.83 meter), 170-pound (77-kg) robot is the subject of a one-hour Smithsonian Channel documentary, "The Incredible Bionic Man," airing on Sunday.

A "bionic man" was the material of science fiction in the 1970s when the television show "The Six Million Dollar Man" showed the adventures of a character named Steve Austin, a former astronaut whose body was rebuilt using synthetic parts after he nearly died.

The robot on display at the museum cost $1 million and was made from 28 artificial body parts on loan from biomedical innovators. They include a pancreas, lungs, spleen and circulatory system, with most of the parts early prototypes.

"The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today - one piece. If you did that, what would it look like?" said Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from the University of Zurich in Switzerland and host of the documentary.

The robot was modeled after Meyer, who was born without a hand and relies on an artificial limb. He showed off the bionic man by having it take a few clumsy steps and by running artificial blood through its see-through circulatory system.   Continued...

An engineer makes an adjustment to the robot "The Incredible Bionic Man" at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts