Prosthetic limbs are another harbinger of the future. They’re becoming increasingly sophisticated, and it looks like IEEE Spectrum is going to run a special issue on them in February.
What’s really cool is the range of control mechanisms available – gone are cumbersome mechanical arrangements, replaced by controls based on nerve signals, twitching related muscles, or even underused muscle groups such as toes. The video below shows an arm based entirely on neural feedback – the patient doesn’t need to learn special commands – his prosthetic responds to messages from his brain similarly to a real one.
Another article discusses cosmeses – coverings for the arm mechanics designed to make them look real. Unfortunately, there’s no pictures, though from the description of “silver-black carbon fiber, shimmering with a pattern of subtle scales” sounds pretty damned awesome.So far, no one has replaced their body parts with prosthetics voluntarily, but given their progress and potential, I give it at most ten years.
I’ve always loved the name ‘rail gun’ – of all the various futuristic weapons concepts I’ve encountered, it’s probably the most down to earth name. And, since it’s based on an idea you can replicate at home with a bunch of wire and a battery, it’s always seemed one of the most practical.
The US Navy’s been interested in rail guns for use on their various capital ships – they’re aiming for a 64 MJ version that will be able to lob projectiles up to 200 miles.
A recent article in the MIT Technology Review describes a 10 MJ gun which is nonetheless scarily impressive. Particularly because, at over 2 kilometres a second, a 3 kg slug is travelling fast enough to cause flakes of aluminium on it to spontaneously combust, leaving an impressive fiery tail.