The outfits of the future will be made of latex. If, that is, we are to believe the accounts of numerous sci-fi movies, films and video games. We’ve shown many of these portrayals in our posts about latex in science fiction and cosplay here and here. Something about the slick, flawless, metallic-appearing and yet completely natural origin of latex makes it a perfect fit for portraying a future where the organic is increasingly interwoven with the robotic.
There are some, however, who are not just presenting high-tech latex costumes as something out of sci-fi but are creating this future as we speak. Introducing Olga Levitskaya, CEO of Cyber Myonics, neurobiologist, inventor, musician, cosplayer, and self-styled ‘Cyborg’.
Photo: Guiseppe Nucci For National Geographic
The term cyborg is not the same thing as bionic, biorobot or android; it applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. – Joseph Carvalko
Ignoring the usual fantastical connotations of the popularised term ‘Cyborg’ and instead applying the above literal definition, it transpires that Olga’s claim to this moniker is entirely legitimate.
While making a sculpture during her 4th year of university, Olga accidentally sliced through her hand. The injury was severe, and Olga, a keen musician, was told she could all but forget about playing her Double bass. Through a curious confluence of her training in neurobiology and interest in Anime (where the heroines often don high-tech suits offering the wearer superpowers), it dawned on Olga that it may be possible to use technology as an aid in overcoming her disability.
The Eureka idea was a glove that used electronic pulses to stimulate the nerves, causing the muscles to move the hand in the desired way. In effect training the neural networks and ‘reeducating’ the brain in those physiological mechanisms as when the arm was healthy. The principal can be seen in this TV spot from Russian news, where the reporter puts on the glove and sees his arm take on a life of its own (at 1m 10s):
Here the arm was programmed to learn the muscle memory to play the drums, but in Olga’s case she was able to rehabilitate her arm to be able to take up stringed instruments once more. Besides rehabilitation after damage or a stroke, the same principle of ‘recording’ physical movements in digital and then playing them back, from computer to body, may even be used to learn an entirely new skill requiring muscle memory.
From there, the idea grew – why stop at a mere glove? A whole suit of this kind would have a much wider field of application. The Cyber Suit was born.
We can see from much of the promotional material that besides muscle rehabilitation and learning new skills another potential application is for ‘deep immersion’ in Virtual Reality; the electrodes and sensors of the suit acting on the nerves in such a way as to trigger the correct sensory responses to match what the user is seeing within their headset.
And then there is also the claim that such a suit can even help the body become fitter or to lose weight without exercising. We don’t know the science behind that, but suspect it may be the same concept as those toning belts which you strap to your abs, the electrodes inside the belt stimulating the muscles and causing them to contract repeatedly. Imagine a whole suit of that!
Olga credits her Cyber Suit with helping her to lose weight
The claims are bold, the ambition lofty. What we don’t know is how much of this is just conceptual, and whether any results have been independently proven, outside of this video by a YouTuber who tested a prototype (non-latex) and found the fitness aspect did deliver some results: (video is in Russian)
What we don’t doubt is Olga Levitskaya’s own dedication and belief in her vision; battling constantly for media exposure and funding (one often following on from the other) as well as injecting non-trivial sums of her own money. Perhaps the most gruelling process was taking part in the TV reality show “Million-Rouble Idea”, which is much like the show “Dragon’s Den” for startup companies seeking investment. The pre-selection process for this required a successful crowdfunding campaign – itself requiring no small amount of time, resources and energy – and Olga went on to feature in Million-Rouble Idea as a contestant in December last year.
We found this episode and thought the segment well worth posting, as it gives the best look at the suit up close, along with a detailed showcase of its workings in the form of an investor pitch (unfortunately in Russian, but the main attributes have been covered in this post already).
Olga proceeded to the series finale but unfortunately lost out on any investment at that stage.
All of this still leaves the very pertinent question though…
Olga herself has stated that for the Cyber Suit to work it has to be both tight against the skin and following perfectly the contours of the body, for an uninterrupted connection between the suit and the muscles or nerves of the wearer. Of course, latex and its famed property for being like a “second skin” fits this bill.
Cyber Suit prototype. The latex catsuit itself is made by celebrated cosplay designer Andromeda Latex
Whether it is exclusively latex which can perform this job we are doubtful, and indeed there are other functioning Cyber Suits created by Cyber Monics from other materials.
But putting aside practical function, there are few materials that capture the sci-fi feel as latex. As we noted at the outset, latex is an effective bridge material between the organic and the cybernetic, and aesthetic concern is surprisingly important to a scientific project such as this, if only to make the science attractive; to popularise it and grab our attention.
So yes: it’s effective PR. But more than that: it intrigues us, makes us want to discover the substance behind the attractive visual; it makes the technology appealing and aspirational. The future seductive.
Even that well known futurist Elon Musk thinks so, who hired superhero movie costume designer Jose Fernandez to work on the space suits for SpaceX:
[Mr Musk] wanted it to look stylish. It had to be practical but also needed to look great … When people put this spacesuit on, he wants them to look better than they did without it, like a tux. You look heroic in it – Jose Fernandez interviewed by Bleep Magazine.
It seems that Olya, taking her inspiration from Anime, Games and Cosplay, also understands this. And really — what good are superpowers if you don’t look the part?!