Human Augmentation: Blurring the Line Between Biology and Technology

  • Restoring and augmenting hearing capacity.
  • Augmenting cognition through the use of a Brian Computer Interface.
  • Using a human exoskeleton to augment movement.
  • Enhancing sensory processing.

These are just a few examples of the exciting concepts we saw in play at VLAB’s November event. Over the past century, we have augmented vision through the use of binoculars, used computers to enable faster processing, and even invented tongs to access items in extreme temperature environments. Now, with a meld of biology and technology, we are taking it to the next level. Augmenting normal human functions is currently a hot field as entrepreneurs are creating innovative and sophisticated methods to enrich human processing.

Two key uses: disability compensation and capability augmentation

Through the course of the evening, Dr. Corinna Lantham, Co-Founder and CEO of AnthroTronix, led an interesting discussion on the future of human augmentation. While the focus in the past has been building products that will adequately do the job, companies are now finding ways to not only aid those with disabilities but also expand beyond. For example, patients with physically debilitating disabilities are reaping the benefits of the exoskeleton developed by Ekso as they undergo therapy using the suits. But, these suits are also beneficial in combat; soldiers use them to help them gain super human strength and protection.

As Peter Hadrovic, President of the featured start up Sonitus Technologies Inc said, there is definitely an obvious advantage to being able to use these technologies on the field. Sonitus creates the ATAC device that acts as a two-way acoustic communicator that is worn in the mouth and uses optimal bone conduction to aid hearing. Restoring hearing is very important, however this device also supports encryptions, can wirelessly link to other devices and is worn internally and therefore does not interfere with protective gear worn by soldiers, and therefore is highly useful for first responders, tactical groups and special missions.

Where’s the funding?

For years, Venture Capitalists such as Shahin Farschi, a partner at Lux Capital, have focused on funding innovative technology. But the meld of biology and technology to augment human function is still a new, unexplored field. This statement was backed by the fact that none of the three companies on the panel had used VC funding. Instead, they all used various outside sources interested in their respective niche markets for funding, such as the government. While VC’s are looking for companies in unsaturated markets that make the world a better place, they also are looking for a good fit, with big ideas that are solid; they are looking for future billion dollar companies.

The biggest obstacle to MVP: FDA approval

The biggest problem the industry faces is the FDA. Regulations are continually changing, and sometimes companies even “dumb down” their products to get FDA approval more easily. No matter how daunting the FDA approval process seems all the panelists agreed that the recognition and validity their products improved with FDA approval. Jeremy Crowell of Hosmer Fillauer, a family owned business, maintains that by dumbing down products to avoid the FDA, companies are defying ethics and doing a disservice to the public.

There are so many solutions that should be readily available, but as the public is accustomed to valuing products based on their FDA approval and approval from peers, products are often overlooked. While the process is an expensive one, it tends to be worth it, for both the company and the users.

“Partnerships with institutions, universities, and hospitals will allow for a broader platform technology. “ Nathaniel McCaffrey, VP of Eng for Medical Products , Ekso

Partnering is important. While the Ekso was focused on creating the Exoskeleton to be used for spinal cord injuries, partnering allowed them to realize the impact their product could have on paraplegics and stroke patients as well. So what’s next? Jeremy Crowell of Hosmer Fillauer, claims “The sky is the limit.” Exoskeleton has already proven that the future is here.



Corinna E. Lathan, Ph.D., P.E., Founder and Chief Executive Officer, AnthroTronix


Peter Hadrovic, President, Sonitus Technologies Inc
Nathaniel McCaffrey, Vice President of Engineering, Ekso Bionics
Shahin Farshchi,Partner, Lux Capital
Jeremy Crowell, Director of Central Fabrication, Hosmer, a Fillauer Company

Demo companies:
  • Ekso Bionics –
  • Sonitus Medical –
  • FIXED The Movie –
  • VisionCare Opthalmic Technologies –
  • Syn-Touch LLC –
  • Two Six Industries –
  • Emotiv –

Be sure to check out our upcoming events…

Written by Dipti KanthilalVLAB Marketing Committee Blogger. Dipti is a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow at Santa Clara University.