Here comes the quarter-of-a-million dollar man

Maybe it’s deflation, maybe Brits just do things on the cheap, but scientists at the British Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) reckon they could recreate the six million dollar man for under $250,000.

Thirty-five years ago, Steve Austin was fitted with a bionic arm and legs that allowed him to run at 60mph, along with a zoom-lens eye. The IET admits in its magazine that it can’t quite replicate these abilities – but it says it can go a long way towards it. And it’s totted up the bill.

The nearest thing to Austin’s bionic eye is the Argus II, an artificial retina developed by Californian company Second Sight. Images are captured by a camera attached to a pair of sunglasses and transmitted to an electrode array which is attached to a patient’s retina. Signals then travel along the optic nerve to the brain, allowing the patient to perceive light and dark.

“It’s probably very simple to use a retinal implant that already talks to the brain to provide the patient with – who knows? – an infrared image and then they could see in the dark. Or see at longer distances,” Second Sight’s Gregoire Cosendai told the IET. The engineers reckon this would cost about $30,000.

A bionic hand is rather more straightforward. There’s one available from Touch Bionics that pretty much fits the bill. The company says there’s no reason it couldn’t be adjusted to give greater strength than a normal hand, and costs it at around $66,000.

Bionic legs come in the form of the Ossur Power Knee, which uses a battery-powered motor to replace lost muscle power. A pair of these costs $126,000. But all this strength would require a powered exoskeleton such as the model from Berkeley Bionics. The Human Universal Load carrier consists of two artificial legs, an on-board computer and a backpack-like frame for bearing heavy weights. It’s all pretty hush-hush because of the military applications, but the IoE estimates the cost at about $20,000.

Add it all up, and the cost comes in at about $242,000. So that’s your Christmas shopping sorted out.