Strike a Pose, Cyborg!


Strike a pose
Strike a pose
Vogue, vogue, vogue
Vogue, vogue, vogue
– Madonna, Vogue

“My prosthetic grabber is from Oasis, my ocular implant is from Topshop and my maglev shoes are from Bertie. My carbon nanotube bag is from NanoWarehouse and my computer chip jewelry is from Accessorize-IC. I chose this brainwave hat because I thought it made a statement — which is what my style is about.”

The latest in cyber wear? Perhaps not quite yet — but if you can believe what you see at sites like DesignWar [See Resources] it may not be that far off! Cyber posers and cyber goths are already leading a colorful trend to an exotic industrial techno look, particularly in Europe:

It turns out that the human body may adapt well to such Borg-like accessorization. A recent study in Current Biology by Alessandro Farné and Lucilla Cardinali of the University of Claude Bernard in Lyon, France suggests that the brain can incorporate cyborg additions — a cyborg arm or other body part — into its body schema.

“Since the origin of the concept of body schema, the idea of its functional plasticity has always been taken for granted, even if no direct evidence has been provided until now,” says Farné. “Our series of experiments provides the first, definitive demonstration that this century-old intuition is true.”

Using a mechanical grabber that extended their reach, subjects behaved as though their arms really were longer. What’s more, they perceived touches delivered on the elbow and middle fingertip of their arm as if they were farther apart after using the grabbing tool.

The study subjects went on using their arms successfully after tool use, but they managed tasks differently. For example, they grasped or pointed to objects correctly, but they did not move their hand as quickly and took longer overall to complete the tasks.

“We believe this ability of our body representation to functionally adapt to incorporate tools is the fundamental basis of skillful tool use,” says Cardinali. “Once the tool is incorporated in the body schema, it can be maneuvered and controlled as if it were a body part itself.”

Strike a pose, robot? Leave it to Japan.

A 2008 study at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne demonstrated that a humanoid robot can visually learn its body schema — not unlike the human subjects in Farné and Cardinali’s study. The researchers showed that by knowing only the number of degrees of freedom in each limb, subjective space representation can develop as a result of sensorimotor contingencies.

Strike a pose, robot? Leave it to Japan, home to almost half of the world’s 800,000 industrial robots to debut a humanoid robot on the fashion catwalk.

As reported all over the web, the sleek HRP-4C runs on battery-powered motors located in “her” body and face, allowing the expressions, gait and poses of a supermodel, but on a stormtrooper-like silver and black frame.

The current 95 lb, 5 ft 2 inch Cybernetic model was slimmed-down from an earlier 128 lb robot model for a Tokyo fashion show in March:

Farné and Cardinali’s study suggests that we humans are able to incorporate prosthetics like mechanical grabbers into our body schemas. Is it a stretch to imagine living in, shall we say, a more complete prosthetic — perhaps a future generation HRP-4C? Maybe one that looks like Madonna in her prime or Baptiste Giabiconi in the Chanel ads? The upgradable humanoid robot form itself would then become the fashion accessory.

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