'Bionic Man' Made Up Of 28 Artificial Organs Can Walk, Talk And Even Breathe

By Josh Lieberman on October 22, 2013 10:32 AM EDT

bionic man
A "bionic man" capable of walking, talking and breathing debuted earlier this month at New York Comic Con. The robot will be on display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., this fall. (Photo: Reuters)

A team of engineers have designed the world's first "bionic man," a walking, talking robot made up of 28 mechanical body parts from 17 international manufacturers. Dubbed Frank -- short for Frankenstein -- the bionic man even features a circulatory system and beating heart. The $1 million robot was put together using already-existing artificial body parts, but this is the first time this many pieces have been put together to form a whole "man."

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Richard Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot, the London company that built the bionic man, said the purpose of building it was to showcase how far medical science has advanced. For instance, a Rex walking machine, designed by a company in New Zealand, allows the bionic man to step and stand, something which was  developed for people who can't walk due to spinal injuries. The bionic man has a functioning heart developed by SynCardia Systems in Tucson, Ariz., a medical device currently implanted in 100 people (the bionic man's heart circulates artificial oxygen-carrying blood, though). Throw in some lungs, a windpipe, a kidney and some other parts, and you've got a robot which has 60 to 70 percent of the function of a human.

"The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today," said Bertolt Meyer, a 36-year-old social psychologist at the University of Zurich who designed the bionic man. "If you did that, what would it look like?"

Meyer was born with only a partial left arm and wears a prosthetic hand, served as a model for the 6-foot, 170-pound robot; both Meyer and the bionic man have an i-limb hand. The bionic man's silicone face was even created using a scan of Meyer's own, something the designer is actually kind of creepy.

"I thought it was rather revolting to be honest," Meyer said. "It was quite a shock to see a face that closely resembles what I see in the mirror every morning on this kind of dystopian looking machine."

At least the face doesn't move, which would probably really creep Meyer out. In fact, the robot is controlled via Bluetooth and a remote computer, so on the whole it isn't as creepy as it would be if it were able to perform actions on its own. And the "chatbot" program (think of iPhone's Siri) that the robot uses makes it seem a little less scary too.     

"The people who made it decided to program it with the personality of a 13-year-old boy from the Ukraine," said Robert Warburton, a design engineer on the robot. "So, he's not really the most polite of people to have a conversation with."

The bionic man debuted earlier this month at New York Comic Con, and will be on display this fall at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A one-hour program about the robot aired on Sunday on the Smithsonian channel. Watch "The Incredible Bionic Man" for free here.

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