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A prototype bionic ear paves the way for cyborg organs.


prototype bionic ear, developed by Michael McAlpine at Princeton University.

The 3D-printed body part laying in the Petri dish might be more than a touch crude, but it hints at a future in which replacement organs do not just match the real thing, they better them.

This prototype bionic ear, developed by Michael McAlpine at Princeton University and his colleagues, directly combines living tissue with electronics. Thanks to its embedded antenna, the ear can receive radio signals.

The team built the ear in a few hours using a Fab@Home 3D printer costing just a few thousand dollars. After 10 weeks in a culture medium the cells had grown into healthy cartilage, the antenna could pick up a wide range of radio waves.

The bionic ear is just a simple prototype, not suitable for transplant. But it proves that 3D printing can combine electronic devices with printed biological tissue and could pave the way for more complex cyborg organs. McAlpine’s team now aims to create similar ears containing pressure-sensing electronics that can pick up sound, ultimately extending to frequencies that regular ears can’t hear. Batman begins?

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