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Jonathan Gornall stands in the Human Regenerator machine at Talise Spa in Dubai. While a full treatment session was not available to The Nationalís reporter, the machine is now ready for bookings.
Jonathan Gornall stands in the Human Regenerator machine at Talise Spa in Dubai. While a full treatment session was not available to The Nationalís reporter, the machine is now ready for bookings.

A Dubai odyssey at Talise Spa starring the Human Regenerator

The spa's "Human Regenerator" is a Dh2.22 million worth of space-age technology, complete with light show, overhead star display and "soothing" new-age ambient sounds.

Even in its unexpectedly inanimate state, the Human Regenerator looks impressive - a 1960s-futuristic, human-size cigar tube that would be equally at home in an art gallery or on the set of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, starring as one of the hibernation pods on board Discovery One.

And, as we sit around staring up at the stubbornly inactive device - not unlike the dumb hominids baffled by Kubrick's mysterious obelisk - it becomes apparent that the comparison can be stretched further.

In 2001, Hal, the recalcitrant computer, switched off the life-support pods, killing three of the boffins therein. Now, someone - or something - has pulled the plug on the Human Regenerator.

Cue the Sunrise fanfare from Richard Strauss's Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

It's a little disappointing. I've always been a sucker for gadgets, and this is the grand gadget of them all - Dh2.22 million worth of space-age technology, complete with light show, overhead star display and "soothing" new-age ambient sounds.

Step in and off you go, first rotated gently backwards to the horizontal, and then exposed to... well, in the words of the maker, "a Quantum-Pulse-Device that imitates and generates the cellular body's natural frequencies ranging between 0.0005 and 38.000 Hz within a field intensity of less than 1 ĶT".

What does all that mean? Who knows. But, dang! If only it were working!

As miffed as I am not to be having my unsound cells regenerated, collagen production boosted, bio-energy regulated and immune system strengthened (to list a few of the claims made for this device), it's Evelin Costa, the marketing manager at Madinat Jumeirah's beautiful and holistic Talise Spa, that I really feel sorry for.

After all, this machine - one of only two in the world currently available for public use - has been regenerating away for the past two years, without so much as a blown bulb. Why, Evelin even uses it herself twice a week - and did so even more during Ramadan: "We go to iftar and suhoor with clients, and we still need to be here at 8am, looking fresh, so before I turn on my computer I turn on the Human Regenerator."

Thirty minutes in the machine - at a cost of Dh400, for Talise punters - "is equivalent to four hours of sleep", she says. Some people feel nothing; others, including her, "feel a tingling".

Right now, however, none of us is feeling anything other than mildly irritated.

Maybe the machine needs a rest - but did it really have to pick the week in which its inventor flies in from Germany, hoping to show it off to a journalist?

Ily Guslo, the chief executive of the Bremen-based System4 Technologies, says his company has so far made 94 of the machines, of which the vast majority are in private hands. Other than this one in Dubai, and the one in the company's showroom in Bremen, Germany, you'd have to go to the Vitasport Wellness Club in Moscow to try one on for size.

Though he thinks someone might have caused the breakdown by fiddling with the machine's power supply, Guslo can't fix it - he is, after all, an industrial designer, not a technician - and it's too early to contact one of his engineers in Germany. Instead, we sit around in the purpose-designed, blacked-out treatment chalet and he explains how the idea came to him.

Back in 2007, his wife Monika had what appeared to be an incurable skin disease. They tried everything traditional medicine had to offer, he says, until finally "a specialist told us to think about alternative medicine".

Enter Dr Reinhard Werner, billed on his CV as a "world leading Energy Medical Scientist", who offered to treat Monika with electromagnetic impulses.

Guslo says he was "totally sceptical about alternative medicine" but his wife had reached the end of her tether. He asked her "if she wanted to play lab rat", and she said: 'Yes, I will do anything to be cured'."

"Anything" turned out to be sleeping with a small electronic device in the bed and, says Guslo, "After six or seven weeks, her disease was totally gone".

And he had recognised a healthy business opportunity.

Werner had 22 such devices, each designed to treat a different condition, "So I ask him," says Guslo, 'OK, why you don't put all in one general, universal device?'"

And so the Human Regenerator was born, containing Werner's "quantum pulse device" and sheathed by its designer in a space-age shell designed to convey its futuristic nature. The guts of the device, he says, is "serious science".

The outside, on the other hand, is serious marketing.

First off, it is produced in strictly limited numbers, no more than 50 a year, a ploy designed to appeal to... well, the sort of people willing to spend Dh2.22m to own something their friends and neighbours almost certainly won't.

And then there's the look - probably best described as late Austin Powers.

"It is a spacey device," says Guslo. "It is looking like a rocket, and if you take a session it is like hovering in space. We recommend our clients to invest a little bit in spacey decoration, with dark colours, glittering stars and spacey music."

So, 2011: A Spacey Odyssey. Does Kevin Spacey, perchance, own one?

Guslo won't, of course, name names. All he will say is that some owners are from the Gulf (though not, it seems, the UAE) and that they are all "rich, of course; prominent people".

Not every owner uses the device. "Not all are buying them because it's something for the health... we have some clients who buy this as an object of modern art."

Two others "are buying it as an investment... Others just want to have it because they have heard of it."

It remains to be seen how many will want the next iteration of the device, for which Guslo says his company has already taken at least one order, from Asia, and which will cost its owner Ä7 million (Dh37.2m).

They are offering the basic Human Regenerator - encrusted with 172,000 diamonds. Nice.

"I'm not a diamond specialist," says Guslo, "but as I heard it, that's cheap."

Guslo and Co are keen to make no medical claims for the Human Regenerator - that way lies regulatory purgatory. It is, insists the firm, "a prevention health and wellness machine", and nothing more. But might not covering it with diamonds, ironically, tarnish any medical credibility it has?

After all, the company claims that 96 per cent of a sample of 4,155 patients treated with the technology it contains - a sample with medical issues ranging from hay fever, headaches and diarrhoea to heart disease, leukaemia, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis - experienced "illness healed, improved, disease healed up [or] normalised".

"Look," shrugs Guslo, "we have a special target group - the rich and famous, and we think about editions... unique devices to keep awareness. So we say, why not make the biggest diamond-jewelled object ever?"

Why not, indeed. And is it? "Definitely; we try to find a bigger one but we can't."

In the world of the fabulously wealthy, size is, apparently, everything. Taste, it seems, not so much.

A few days later, Guslo has returned to Germany and Evelin and I are back in the darkened treatment chalet. Apparently the Human Regenerator came back to life, but now it is mysteriously playing up again. Maybe it's me? Or perhaps 003/2008 got wind of its carbon-encrusted successor and its inner Hal is experiencing the human emotion known as jealousy.

Two of the hotel's handymen bravely volunteer to delve into the device, even though its workings are a mystery to them, and briefly it stirs into action - but only, it turns out, for as long as one of them keeps his finger on something deep inside the machine.

As the moody lighting flickers to life, the new-age ambient music pipes up and projected nebulae start to cartwheel hypnotically across the ceiling. I spring into the machine and wait in vain for a tingling sensation.

Does it work? Who knows. I don't feel anything - other than slightly foolish - but a few snatched minutes in the upright position while two handymen root around under the hood, throwing muttered ideas back and forth and dropping pliers with a clatter, is not particularly relaxing and almost certainly does not constitute a proper test drive.

The stars look nice, though.

The Human Regenerator has been repaired; sessions available at Talise Spa by calling 04 366 6818. www.human-regenerator.com.

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