Within science fiction, particularly the subgenre known as cyberpunk, humans augment themselves with various technological devices and prosthetics to enhance themselves beyond human capabilities, or to repair themselves in ways that perfectly replicate body functions. So how do modern prosthetics fare compared to the technological marvels of fiction? While we have made huge leaps forward in bionics and myoelectrics, we are not quite yet at the level of the cyberpunk future. But with graphene, we may just be able to get there. The material’s strength, light weight, and endless utility could lead to even more dramatic advancements in prosthetic technology.
In modern prosthetics, bionic limbs have done excellently in replicating movement and function of missing body parts for amputees, offering mostly full range of motion for legs, feet, arms, and hands. This can be contributed to the development of myoelectric sensors, which connect the artificial limb to the natural electrical processes generated by muscles in order to enable complex movement. Hand prosthetics in particular have made major advancements in replicating the intricate and specific motor functions of fingers.
Our advancements in prosthetics make it so that we can successfully regain lost function, but still lack meaningful tactile perception. While some might argue that the absence of pain is a benefit, the use of touch to perceive potentially harmful stimuli to the host would be a valuable addition to the features prosthetics provide, not to mention the emotional and psychological relief that may come with such upgrades to prosthetic tech.
This is where graphene can step in. Scientists have begun to use the wonder material to create a graphene-based skin for prosthetics. This e-dermis electrically stimulates the amputee’s nerves non-invasively through the skin, replicating the process of signal relaying that the brain utilizes in tactile feeling. In addition, graphene’s optical transparency allows for 98% of light to pass through it, making the perfect material to utilize solar energy to power these advanced prosthetics. Of course, pain is not the only feeling that this graphene skin would allow users to process, and it’s potential to make the feeling from phantom limbs a reality again is truly wondrous to behold.
Even more intricate, graphene can potentially be used to create small implants and internal prostheses that would be capable of correcting eyesight or hearing, to repair the body and help in overcoming degenerative diseases, or even help mend broken bones. Previously, silicon-based implants were too damaging to internal tissues if disturbed, and the conditions inside the body damaged the electronic components. However, graphene’s strength, being 200 times stronger than steel, and its flexibility make it much more durable. It is also possible to use graphene to create transistors that are gated by the natural fluids surrounding the implant. With graphene, the hyper-advanced technological developments of cyberpunk are closer than ever.
With graphene, prosthetics are on the cusp of reaching the technological heights of science fiction. Like with many graphene-based products, they are mostly in the testing and research phase, but it’s clear that the application of graphene can bring about a new era in the field of prosthetics and change countless lives.