Bionics: The Future of Prosthetics

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Hugh Herr is an engineer, biophysicist, and pioneer in the field of biomechatronics - technology that marries human physiology and electromechanics to provide greater mobility for those with physical disabilities. A double amputee himself, Hugh has made breakthrough advances in bionic limbs and prostheses that interface with neurology, allowing both control by thought and sensory feedback.

In this episode of Create the Future, we discuss the technologies employed in biomechatronics and explore the implications of Hugh’s work in everything from regenerative medicine and surgery to elderly mobility. We discuss the rise of robotic exoskeletons, explore the challenges of product commercialisation, and Hugh shares some personal highlights from his journey to end disability. New episodes of ‘Create the Future: An Engineering Podcast’ every other Tuesday.

About the guest

Hugh Herr is director of the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab where he focuses on developing wearable robotic systems that serve to augment human strength, endurance and agility. Hugh has advanced novel bionic technologies, including a computer-controlled artificial knee, an active ankle-foot orthosis, and the world's first powered ankle-foot prosthesis.

Herr has received many accolades for his innovations, including the 13th Annual Heinz Award for Technology, the Prince Salman Award for Disability Research, and the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Technology. He is currently Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab, and co-director of the MIT Center for Extreme Bionics.

Episode Highlights

  • “I think in two to three decades we will have bionic limbs that completely emulate biological function.”
  • “Engineering is fantastic because you can solve problems that many people are faced with. I can engineer a technology so that people are limping less, how fantastic is that?”
  • "I've found that a body part need not be made of flesh and bone for it to be part of self and completely natural.”
  • “Engineering, science, art, it's all creativity. Wherever ideas come deep within ourselves is a mystery. It's almost a spiritual experience, at least for me. I absolutely love creativity in any domain of life.”
  • “Imagine that you're 75, you go to your local store and buy these bionic shoes, and you walk out as you've walked when you were 18. That's the work we want to create.”
  • “Every product I commercialise I gain a new set of grey hairs. It takes me about a decade to commercialise a product. It's very hard, but of course, very, very worthwhile.”
  • “When I realised how unsophisticated technology was in the realm of prosthesis in 1980s I really began thinking and inventing to improve the state of the art.”
  • “My group at MIT were the first to develop a bionic leg that restores natural gait.”
  • “I realised the power of technology to heal and to rehabilitate […] That drove me towards a whole career in bionic technology - to provide the gift of a body that is no longer limited - to all of humanity.”
  • “If you ask 1000 people with limb loss what the main problem with their prosthesis is, probably all 1000 would say that their limbs hurt them. My team are working on that very problem.”

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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