Iron Man, Biomechanical Technology, & the Ethics of Human and Machine Integration (HMI)

What does the future of mankind look like?

In Extremis, we discover Tony Stark's ultimate purpose for the Iron Man suit -

"...It's not about exo-skeletons or war. It's about becoming better. It's about bringing on the future. The earliest stages of adapting machine to man and making us great."

So, the Iron Man suit is Tony Stark's first attempt at integrating Man and Machine. He wants to make us "better" by transitioning from machine helping man to machine becoming man. Let's discuss what this means and explore the technology and the ethics of marrying man and machine.

Topics to be discussed:

Definition of terms

Brief history of the human and machine relationship

Current state of biomechanical technology

The 3 stages of human and machine integration

Design challenge


Biomedical Engineering:

the application of engineering principles and design concepts to medicine and biology for healthcare purposes (

BioMechanicial Engineering:

a sub-discipline of biomedical engineering that applies the principles of mechanical engineering to biological systems i.e. humans.

Brief History

For millennia, machines have helped man accomplish tasks and eventually tame the earth. However, during recent decades, we have seen machines begin the transition from assisting man, to being assimilated by man.

Early/simple Examples



Current Examples


The Blade Runner


Advanced/Future Examples

"Luke" DEKA Arm


Transitioning from life sustainment/repair to life enhancement...

Stage 1



Iron Man like exo-skeletons

More great videos...

The Iron Man suit is a biomechanical suit!

  • Machines are used externally by the body to enhance strength, range of motion, endurance etc.
  • We are currently in a transitional period where we have technology from BOTH Stage1 and Stage 2 of HMI.

Stage 2

Cybernetic Organism

A being with both organic and biomechanical parts. (

Stage 3

The only thing that is needed is your consciousness.

Ethical Questions

So, which side are you on?

Design Challenge

Build a mechanical, human powered hand that can accomplish the following task:

General Requirements:
  • The hand must be human powered. For example it must use your hand’s movements to “power” it’s own movements (no electronics).
  • The hand can be made of ANY material that the team deems appropriate (try to make it inexpensively).
  • The hand CANNOT be made up of pre-made mechanical devices of any kind i.e. a toy hand.
  • Utilize the Engineering Design Process- Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve.
  • Performance Requirements:
  • The hand must have at least 3 “fingers” for grasping.
  • The hand must be designed to pick up and hold a 12 oz cylinder. with a diameter of 2.6 inches and a height of 4.8 inches (a filled  can of soda) for 10 consecutive seconds.
  • Have Fun!!

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