Your body the powerplant

By Bob Holmes IT’S one of those days. Your retinal implants say it’s twilight, even though you’ve just finished lunch. Your heart has been skipping beats, yet the new love of your life is nowhere in sight. You’ve had three blood-sugar alerts and one heart-attack warning from your implanted sensors – all false alarms, as usual. Even that pesky bladder-control valve seems to be leaking again. Sigh. If only your doctor had been able to schedule your battery-change surgery sooner – but you have to wait your turn. This cyborgian dystopia is not yet reality, but it’s not pure science fiction, either. Millions of people with heart ailments already have implanted pacemakers or defibrillators, and tens of thousands use cochlear implants to counter deafness. A deluge of ideas for other implantable devices is flooding in, including brain stimulators to block hunger signals and combat obesity, or to tackle Parkinson’s disease or chronic pain, plus sensors to watch for the molecular warning signs of cancer or a heart attack. There’s one big fly in the ointment, though: it’s too damn hard to change the batteries. People fitted with battery-powered pacemakers need surgery every few years just to get the battery replaced. That can cost as much as $20,000 a time – and patients don’t much enjoy having their chest cavity opened to have the work done. Add a few sensors and actuators, and you’ve got a bionic future that’s just plain insupportable. Maybe there’s a better way. Researchers are working hard to harness the body’s inner power – not some mystical life force,
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