In his parents’ Rexdale garage, John-Paul Rishea, 31, cuts metal, bends tubes, drills holes, and wires LED lights. Since 2007, this has been the headquarters of Bionic Concepts, the only place in town—maybe the world—where you can order mechanical angel wings and sci-fi–inspired body armour.
“What really started me on it was Terminator 2,” Rishea says. “I’d always been interested in robots, and when I saw that movie, I could see the mechanisms working in the arm and the endoskeleton.”
From the time he was 12, Rishea did experiments with motors and pneumatics using Lego. (The first thing he built was a Lego arm-wrestling machine.) He moved on to study automation and robotics at Humber College, but is mostly self-taught. After Rishea mastered the scroll saw, his father gave him a drill press and grinder. Next, he added a table saw to his workshop. Currently, Bionic Concepts doesn’t have a retail space: clients order online.
Rishea’s gadgets, from a $25 wrist guard to a $3,300 “Exo Gauntlet 2.0” (a Terminator-like fist with pneumatic pistons in each digit) have been used in theatre, music videos, conventions, fashion shoots, and raves around the world. A custom-built set of steam-punk wings was featured
in Flower of Shembe, a stage production in South Africa.
Recently, he sold a pair of wings to a Mexican hospital, which is using them in an “angel program” to lift the spirits of sick kids. Rishea’s biggest time of year, though, is in the months before Burning Man, the annual free-for-all art happening each September in the Nevada desert. “Every year,
I get a spike of orders before the festival,” he says.