Moving beyond our physical limitations with the help of our greatest strength – our brains – we humans are beginning to blur the lines between biology and technology. We can gain super-strength with the help of electric exoskeletons, unlock doors with the wave of a hand, manipulate computers with our minds and implant devices that help the blind to see and the paralyzed to walk. Ranging from devices and tech that are already available to those that are still in development, these 12 inventions are sci-fi come to life.


Electric Exoskeleton Suits

(image via: wikimedia commons)

Powered exoskeletons are among the most sci-fi of modern prosthetics, at least in terms of appearance. Worn as suits, these exoskeletons – which have a power supply that aid in limb movement – can help assist and protect soldiers, construction workers and others with dangerous jobs, enabling them to perform feats of strength that aren’t typically possible. Calling to mind Iron Man (without the jet pack and all the fancy weapons, of course), the suits are mostly still theoretical, but some applications have already been carried out. In Japan, ‘Hybrid Assistive Limb’ suits are commercially available to medical professionals to help them lift and carry elderly patients.

Bionic Eyes

(image via: cnet)

Retinal implant systems can actually help the blind see again, and scientists believe that they may actually be available for human trials within a year or so. The prototype pictured above, created by a team at MIT, works in conjunction with special glasses fitted with a small camera that relays visual data to a chip mounted on the outside surface of the eyeball. The firing of electrodes under the retina could stimulate the optic nerve, allowing the visually impaired to see again. The recent discovery of a man-made, bio-compatible diamond that makes an excellent stimulating electrode may help in advancing this kind of technology.

RFID Chips That Unlock Doors

(images via: gearfuse)

People tend to be pretty divided on RFID implants, either hailing them as an extremely convenient innovation or decrying them as ‘the mark of the beast’. But RFID microchip implants do have a lot of practical uses: they could eliminate the need for keys, allowing you to unlock the doors of your home or your car with a wave of your hand. They may also be used to track surgical sponges during operations to ensure that they aren’t left behind inside patients. The FDA has approved the implantable microchips, which are about the size of a grain of rice, for use in humans in 2004.

Artificial Organs

(images via: discovery news,, medgadget)

If you’ve ever known someone on a transplant list for a vital organ like a heart or a lung, you know just how harrowing the process can be. But what if, when organs failed, people could receive shiny new artificial replacements instead of live ones? Technology is advancing in this area at an incredible pace, and new artificial organs including hearts, lungs, kidneys, stomachs, livers and even muscles are in development. For now, the devices that have been approved for use are typically only implanted as a last resort.

Implants That Track Cancer Growth

(image via: MIT)

A tiny implant developed by scientists at MIT can be placed inside a tumor to monitor how it responds to treatment, giving doctors a less invasive and more accurate way to track its growth. Currently, tumors are typically monitored by biopsy, which is the removal of tissue. The implant could provide up-to-the-minute information about the tumor’s exact state, including whether it has begun to spread to other areas of the body.

Bionic Limbs

(images via:

Extraordinary advances have been made recently in the area of prosthetic limbs, making them much more functional. New bionic limbs can be controlled by nerve tissue in the bodies of amputees, restoring movement to hands, arms, feet and legs that have been lost. In fact, researchers have developed fiber optics that can connect these bionic limbs to nerves well enough to restore feeling.

Brain Implants That Can Power Limbs and Computers

(image via: official u.s. navy imagery)

Experimental devices that read brain waves are enabling paralyzed people to use computers, and may even help them walk again. In 2004, surgeons implanted 96 electrical sensors into the brain of 25-year-old Matt Nagle, allowing him to use a detached robotic arm to move a mouse cursor just with his thoughts. Sensors only slightly thicker than a single human hair can be inserted into the skull and sit on top of the brain, picking up nerve impulses and relaying them to prosthetics. And Intel Corp. believes that we could all be controlling our computers with our brains by 2020 with brain implants that sense thoughts.

Energy-Harvesting Implants

(image via: science codex)

Our natural, everyday body movements like walking and breathing could be used to power our own devices like cell phones and heart pacemakers. Scientists are working on thin, implantable rubber films that can harvest energy from these movements, refining the manufacturing processes that would allow them to combine piezoelectric materials with rubber. It’s not clear how the energy would then be transmitted to devices – we’re imagining plugging our iPhones into USB outlets on our arms, which is kind of disturbing.

TV Screens for our Retinas

(images via: dvice)

In another advancement that seems to have come straight out of the movie Minority Report, researchers at the University of Washington have developed tiny, semi-transparent LEDs that can be integrated into contact lenses, potentially making full-color displays possible. The LED arrays can display images on top of the retina, creating images that are in perfect focus. When the display is turned off, the array is invisible, so the contacts can be worn at all times.

Under-Skin LED Arrays

(image via: physorg)

Ultra-thin sheets of LED arrays could be implanted under the skin, but unlike the contact lenses, the purpose of these lights would have nothing to do with entertainment. Researchers at the University of Illinois have created biocompatible polymers affixed with a mesh-like array of LED lights and photodetectors, which could  monitor wound healing, diagnose illnesses or control the delivery of drugs triggered by light.

Audio Receiver ‘Supertooth’

(image via: wired)

A decade after it was introduced, wireless receivers in teeth still aren’t exactly common. And most of us will gladly take Bluetooth over microchips in our teeth, thank you. But though it may still be in the realm of James Bond tech, the very possibility of turning your skull into one big signal receiver while your tooth plays music is enough to freak some people out. If you ask your neighborhood conspiracy theorist, he or she will probably tell you that you’ve already got one, surreptitiously slipped into your amalgam filling by your dentist.

Real-Life Orgasmatrons

(image via: reghardware)

The ‘Orgasmatron’ is not just a figment of Woody Allen’s imagination. Though a little different from the retrofuturistic instant-orgasm pod in Sleeper, a real-world Orgasmatron does exist and could be on the market within a few years. A North Carolina doctor accidentally discovered that implanting electrodes into a patient’s spine to treat chronic leg pain could cause a sensation of an unexpected variety. Working further on the device, Dr. Stuart Meloy held a trial wherein five women who had lost their ability to orgasm regained it when implanted with the chip. The electrical impulses are sent with a remote control that allows users to change the timing and intensity.

[ By Steph in Architecture & Design & Urbanism. ]

Here is criminal justice at its finest.

Should architecture be used as a punishment in itself, made as harsh and cruel as possible in a bid to make inmates sorry for what they’ve done, or should it uplift and rehabilitate them, showing them that there’s more to the world than a life of crime? While some architects boycott prison design altogether so as not to participate in what is often seen as a corrupt and immoral system, others produce (often controversial) designs that revolutionize prisoners’ relationships with their environment, each other and the world at large – for better or worse.


Justizzentrum Leoben Minimum Security Prison, Austria

(images via:

Possibly the poshest prison on the world, Austria’s Leoben Justice Center lets inmates live the high life in a beautifully designed facility with perks like designer furniture, personal televisions, gardens and an indoor ping-pong court. Resembling a luxury estate more than a penitentiary for criminals, this ‘rehabilitation center’ aims to give prisoners a comfortable, nurturing place to reflect on their crimes, and inspire them to live better lives in the future. One inscription on the exterior reads, “Each of the persons deprived of their liberty must be humanely and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human being treated.”

Shipping Container Prison Cells

(images via: adelaidenow, greenbiz)

Are shipping container prison cells a brilliant example of eco-minded reuse, or a cruel way to house criminals? A local prison in Australia has upcycled shipping containers into cheap prisoner housing, and another prison in New Zealand has begun using them as a solution for overcrowding. The concept has drawn controversy from critics who worry that the conditions of shipping container prison cells are inhumane, or that they’re not secure enough.

Vertical Prison

(image via:

An interesting concept from Malaysian designers Chow Khoon Toong, Ong Tien Yee and Beh Ssi Cze places a productive prison complex in the air above a ‘host city’. This vertical prison aims to create a prison community where inmates live and work in agricultural fields, factories and recycling plants as a way to give back to the community. While law-abiding citizens below might not appreciate their view of the sky being replaced with a looming, spaceship-like prison, the system would theoretically turn a prison sentence into a learning experience that benefits everyone.

Halden Fengsel Prison, Norway

(images via: architizer)

This prison, located in Norway, is nicer than the homes of many wealthy people, featuring award-winning architecture, art and amenities. Believing that prisons needn’t be cruel and painful in order to be effective, Erik Møller Architects produced a facility where inmates can jog down woodland trails and take cooking classes. While this may seem unreasonably plush for a place of punishment, it’s worth noting that whereas harsh and austere prisons in UK and Britain have a 50% return rate, Norway’s is only 20%.

Benthamite Radial Prisons

(images via: wikimedia commons)

In 1791, philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham designed an institution that enables the managers or staff to view every inmate in the building, enabling a smaller workforce and thus lowering costs. His ‘Panopticon’ concept never came into being during his lifetime, and no true Panopticon prisons have ever been built according to his exact designs; the closest is the now-abandoned Presidio Modelo in Cuba (pictured).

Danish State Prison

(images via: dezeen)

A new state prison will soon be built on the island of Falster in Denmark which is laid out like a small village and emphasize work and leisure activities as well as green spas. Danish architects C.F. Møller have made the prison bright and airy with large windows and skylights. A network of streets connect inmate housing to administration buildings, a library, a worship room, sports facilities and a shop.

Juvenile Pavilion

(images via: archdaily)

Believing that wayward youth will benefit from a connection to nature, UArchitects have given the Juvenile Pavilion in The Netherlands an earthy, organic feel with an open structure wrapped in slatted wood. Instead of a dark, enclosed prison, the facility is transparent, maintaining a lifeline to the outside world that reminds the residents that their stay is not permanent.

The Creative Prison

(images via: subtopia)

How does the design of prisons inform their effectiveness? That’s the question that architect Will Alsop asked when he teamed up with activist arts group Rideout for the Creative Prison Project in 2006. The collaboration produced concept art for a ‘fantasy prison’ that was driven, in part, by the ideas of inmates who were asked how they would improve the prison environment. The results emphasize rehabilitation and education, allowing the prisoner population to live in college campus-like ‘modules’ and interact with the outside world. Each prisoner block would include a communal kitchen, common room and enclosed garden.

Port Arthur ‘Separate’ Prison

(images via:

On the darker side of prison design are facilities like the notoriously inhumane ‘Separate’ prison in Port Arthur, Australia. The Victorian concept of placing prisoners in extremely solitary environments, which certainly did nothing to contribute to their mental stability, is precisely the sort of cruel punishment that many of these modern ideas are pushing against. The Port Arthur Separate Prison in particular was an experimental facility of silence and strict control.

World’s Smallest Prison

(image via: zentner)

This particular facility isn’t modern, futuristic or revolutionary, but it’s definitely interesting. The smallest jail in the world fits just two prisoners. Sark Prison is found on the Island of Sark in the English Channel; it’s still used for overnight stays despite its diminutive size and lack of permanent staff. Anyone requiring more than a single night’s lockup is sent to a more standard prison on another part of the island.

LEED-Certified Butner Federal Prison

(image via:

The North Carolina facility where notorious scammer Bernie Madoff is living out the remaining years of his life is UK’s one and only LEED-Certified prison, meaning it has met the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards for sustainable design. Bicycle storage, alternative fuel stations, water-smart landscaping, optimized energy performance and reduced greenhouse gas emissions are among its notable features. You might imagine that this kind of eco-friendly design would be more expensive and thus, not a great example for other cash-strapped prisons around the country to follow, but that’s not the case. The measures taken to make the building so efficient and green have actually helped the facility save money.

Bastoy Island Eco Prison

(images via:

“Is Bastoy the place for you?” asks the Bastoy Island website beside idyllic photographs of sunsets, snow and sleigh-pulling horses. You’d better hope not, unless you’ve committed some kind of crime, because this place is not a resort, it’s a prison – though you’d never know that looking at it. Bastoy Island is an experimental minimum-security ‘eco prison’ where 115 ‘residents’ eat organic food and enjoy cross-country skiing, tennis and other activities once they have completed their mandatory hard labor on the farm. The prison warden says that this place is such a nice place to live, he worries more about all of the curious outsiders who find their way onto the property than about inmates escaping.

Want More? Click for Great Related Content on WebUrbanist:

5 Jail Hotels (Where You Pay to Be In Prison): From Comfortable Cells to Nightmarish Slammers

A prison is probably the last place on Earth most of us would want to spend the night, right?
40 Comments – Click Here to


Horror Prisons: Top 13 Most Terrifying Fictional Facilities

The scariest prisons in the world involve mental manipulation, monsters and cannibalism – and they’re impossible to escape. Luckily these ones are fictional.
Click Here to


Crazy Cargo: 30 Steel Shipping Container Home Designs

Shipping container homes are the perfect blend of modern architecture and sensible green building. Buy your own used cargo container on sale and start building today!
8 Comments – Click Here to


Share on Facebook

[ By Steph in Architecture & Design & Urbanism. ]

[ WebUrbanist | Archives | Galleries | Privacy | TOS ]



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


Subscribe to Site via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this site and receive notifications of new posts by email.