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Meet a real-life Cyborg

01 March 2019

A pioneering Coventry professor who claims to be the world’s first human cyborg will be talking about his ground-breaking work at a major event in the city aimed at people of all ages.

Kevin Warwick, Emeritus Professor at Coventry and Reading Universities, has performed innovative research into cybernetics – the study of control and communications in both animals and machines.

His experiments, sometimes performed on himself, have helped people with debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s disease – but they could also have profound implications for humanity.

Prof Warwick will be speaking about his work and its impact at Robot Day at the Coventry Transport Museum on Saturday March 9.

The free event runs from 10am to 4pm, and Prof Warwick hopes plenty of budding scientists will come along.

Prof Warwick said: “I’m hoping my talk at Robot Day will inspire the next generation of scientists to go on and achieve great things.

“I was just a little lad from Coventry, but now I’m the first human cyborg. Someone in the audience could easily discover something incredible if they put their minds to it.

“My work is about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, so I’d encourage anyone interested in science and robotics to come along.

“It’s going to be a fascinating day.”

Born in Keresley and educated at Lawrence Sheriff in Rugby, Prof Warwick was inspired to research cybernetics by his father being cured of his agoraphobia by surgeons removing some of his brain cells, as well as by science fiction authors such as Michael Crichton.

Although his work has helped people with medical conditions, it is his experiments performed on himself which have earned him the most fame.

With the help of his team at the University of Reading and surgeons at Radcliffe Infirmary, he implanted an electronic array into his nervous system which allowed him to control a robot arm by thought alone.

Incredibly, he then uploaded a digitised version of his nervous system to the Internet, which allowed him to control the robot arm in Reading while he was in New York.

This research could give patients with conditions like tetraplegia the ability to have functioning limbs again.

“I’ve always been my own guinea pig,” he said.

“When other scientists have done their own cybernetic experiments, they’ve looked at the work I’ve done on myself as a reference point.”

But Prof Warwick’s work has been controversial. Concerns have been raised about whether robots using artificial ‘brains’ should have human rights, and whether these treatments will only be available to wealthy people due to their cost.

He added: “I understand the ethical concerns of my work, but we’ve got to try to do it to see if it’s possible.

“It could open up a whole host of new avenues for humanity, but equally it could open a can of worms for us from an ethical point of view.

“Ultimately though, we need to show we can do something first before we can decide whether to rule it out on ethical grounds.”

Robot Day, which is being organised by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) with support from Coventry University, Culture Coventry, Imagineer Productions and mCreat, will take place at the Coventry Transport Museum on Saturday, March 9, from 10am until 4pm.

Visitors to the free event will have the chance to build their own robot, get hands-on with coding, hear from experts about how robots improve people’s lives and experience virtual reality. There will also be also autonomous vehicle, industrial robot and robotic displays.

A special performance has also been commissioned that will see Imagineer Productions’ six-metre high Lady Godiva perform with the Urban Astronaut.

On top of that, there will be craft and dance workshops, a range of static and moving exhibits and inspirational talks and lectures from world leaders in engineering, science and design alongside Prof Warwick.

Most activities are drop-in or register on the day, lectures can optionally be pre-booked to avoid disappointment.

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