From out of the crimson curtain and into the spotlight came an unusual sight. A 6-foot tall walking, talking, grasping, hearing and thinking bionic man appeared to an audience of 250 students and visitors on the Half Hollow Hills High School East auditorium stage in Dix Hills Wednesday night.
Students, including members of the school district’s 50-member robotics team, were introduced to the bionic man during an event sponsored by Cablevision, Newsday's parent company, in conjunction with the Smithsonian Channel and School-Business Partnerships of Long Island.
Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland — who was born without a left arm below the elbow and has the same prosthetic hand as the bionic man — and one of its creators, Richard Walker, then provided the audience a sneak peek of “The Incredible Bionic Man.”
The one-hour documentary, which premieres Oct. 20 at 9 p.m. on the Smithsonian Channel, chronicles the building of the first bionic man consisting solely of bionic body parts and implantable synthetic organs.
“Almost everything you see on this robot wasn’t available five years ago,” said Meyer, who the bionic man’s face was modeled after. “The inspiration to do this came after seeing so much advancement in artificial science since then. We thought it’d be neat to see the most advanced prosthetic human body parts created all over the world come together in one being.”
In 2011, a team of engineers, led by Walker and Matthew Godden, of London-based robotics company Shadow Robot Company, came up with the concept of building a bionic man, with a pumping heart and other critical human components, including ankles, feet, a lung, ears, a pancreas and a kidney, borrowing $1 million worth of advanced limbs and organs from laboratories and manufacturers.
“No one has ever attempted this before,” said Walker, who said it took six weeks of assembling. “This could help so many people.”
Physics teacher Julian Aptowitz, who mentors the district’s robotics team, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for students.
“This shows them how technology has progressed and that it’s within their grasp to do things that these men have done to further research,” said Aptowitz, 51, of Hauppauge.
The bionic man will also be displayed at New York Comic Con Thursday through Sunday, and then at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., through the fall.
The event inspired Justin Greene, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West and student ambassador for the robotics team.
“I took away so much. What we don’t think of as tangible can exist if we set our minds to creating it,” said Greene, 17, of Dix Hills. “It’s more than building robots, it’s about discovering more about life and what you could be capable of someday if you put your mind to it.”