The 5 ways to make yourself superhuman

We’ve mastered the use of tools and learned to walk upright, but since then we humans haven’t done much to develop our physical side. We’ve not grown into a super-sized species, sprouted gills or even managed to run for the bus without being reduced to a red-faced, spluttering mess. An upgrade to our wheezing bodies is well overdue, and thanks to our true star attribute – brain power – that time is now.

The 5 ways to make yourself superhuman

Superhuman capabilities will be coming to a body near you soon, as Bionic technologies are tinkered with and perfected in labs ready to enhance our squidgy, organic selves. Don’t expect full humanoid assimilation just yet, but there are several exciting breakthroughs with the potential to transform our bodies as we know them today.

1. Superhuman strength

In the animal kingdom humans sit pretty low down the tree when it comes to strength. If our muscles matched our brain power, we’d be laughing at that unopened jar of mayonnaise; we all want super strength. Thankfully, through the wonder of technology, we won’t have to embarrass ourselves down the gym in order to get it.

There are people in the world today who are able to lift spine-crumbling objects just as easily as picking up a pencil. But they haven’t undergone some gamma-ray accident in order to achieve this feat – it’s down to an exoskeleton.

These are powered “frames” worn over the body that employ motors and servos to take the muscle work out of intensive tasks. Korean manufacturer Daewoo has developed an exoskeleton for shipbuilders that enables them to pick up 27kg pieces of metal without breaking a sweat. Still only in the prototype stage, its creators are working towards the suit being able to lift objects up to 100kg.

The military is a big adopter and developer of exoskeletons. It has demonstrated its ideas for future soldiers, and the latest designs look sleek, lightweight and impressively powerful. The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) is being rolled out by United States Special Operations Command for its soldiers to carry packs, supplies and weaponry far heavier than ordinary bodies could handle. It’s being dubbed the “Iron Man” suit since its full enclosure offers bulletproof protection, enhanced hearing and 360-degree vision.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has created a lightweight “wearable robot” to enhance the power of leg muscles and joints. The Warrior Web project comes straight from the science brains at Harvard University, and integrates motors and springs into soft leggings that augment the work performed by the legs. With it load-carrying becomes more bearable, and its hydraulic boost with every leg movement allows wearers to walk greater distances without fatigue.

Private company Ekso Bionics, which has been lending its expertise to the TALOS program, makes exoskeletons for civilians and has helped those with disabilities or paralysis to walk again. The battery-powered “body brace” drives the legs and bears the weight of the individual for rehabilitation, which in itself is pretty superhuman.  

2. Superhuman sight

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Image by Chad Cooper

Our eyes are wonderful but they’re not without weakness. For starters they degenerate, and second we can’t really see very well in the dark, no matter how many carrots we’ve consumed over the years. However, ocular upgrades are one of the most exciting areas of Bionic advancements, with numerous labs, universities and private companies working on contact lenses that offer the wearer anything from telescopic vision to a built-in computer screen.  

Swiss researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have developed a thin lens that has the ability to zoom in and out at the slightest wink. Commissioned by DARPA to offer soldiers supervision, they also serve for sufferers of macular degeneration – a condition where, mainly as a result of old age, central vision is lost. Currently the lenses are capable of magnifying objects 2.8 times, but the technology is ever improving, so we could one day end up with the ability to zoom in on objects that are miles away.

Thanks to a breakthrough in graphene-based technology in contact lenses, which can detect the whole infrared light spectrum, night vision is looking to become a reality too. The discovery was made by scientists at the University of Michigan, who pioneered use of the nanomaterial. Graphene isn’t great at absorbing light, but scientists devised a way to detect light signals by using two layers of graphene with an insulating dielectric layer in between. When photons hit the top layer they work through the conducting dielectric, creating an electric charge to amplify the number of photons it captures. If it works, this technology means our vision would never again be hindered in the dark, with implications for soldiers, who could see enemies hidden in shadows or road users who would be able to spot dangers at night.

Less likely to be a featured superpower in the next Marvel movie, but important nonetheless, is a contact lens from Google X that can pre-warn diabetics of low glucose levels. The secretive lab unveiled the lens, which monitors glucose in the wearer’s tears and will set off a miniature, built-in LED light to warn if levels become dangerously low.

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