The only human body parts that remain of Alex Murphy -- the man who becomes RoboCop -- are the brain and spinal cord of his central nervous system, two lungs, one arm, his face and most of his head. To function, neural implants are inserted into his brain.
Today, laboratories are using an array of sharp electrodes inserted into the brains of monkeys to stimulate various functions. "That would be the closest thing we've seen in the real world to something like RoboCop," Higgins said. "Basically, one of the monkey's arms could be paralyzed and it could feed itself with the robotic arm."
However, the problem with this approach is that the brain surrounds these sharp electrodes and eventually renders them ineffective. "The longest anyone's ever been able to keep them effective is a few years," Higgins said. "It works fine in monkeys, in the laboratory, but not for clinical purposes."
Most promising is electrocorticography technology (ECoG), where less invasive electrodes are laid on top of the brain. The procedure still requires brain surgery, but the electrodes don't penetrate the brain.
"You can stimulate and record from those electrodes. That, I think, is the most promising technology that will lead us to something like RoboCop," Higgins said. "Right now, it's being used for stopping epileptic seizures."