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A double amputee and pioneer in the field of biomechatronics, Hugh heads the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab and has been described by Time magazine as the “Leader of the Bionic Age”. Drawing together biology, mechanics, neuroscience, electronics and control engineering to produce cutting edge prostheses, Hugh combines a compelling personal story of dedication and persistence with innovation and purpose.
Hugh Herr is an engineer and academic who is tackling one of the toughest, most complex challenges in technology – emulating the movement and function of human limbs. The MIT Media Lab’s Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and co-director of the MIT Center for Extreme Bionics, Hugh was described by Time magazine as the “Leader of the Bionic Age” after his pioneering work in the field of Biomechatronics – the combination of technology and electromechanics with human physiology. His work takes in the latest developments in a wide range of fields from material technologies to neuroscience and marries innovation with purpose.
As a teenager, Hugh was rated as one of the best rock climbers in the US. Whilst tackling a notorious ice route on Mount Washington, he and a colleague became trapped by a blizzard and spent three nights in temperatures of almost -30C. The ensuing frostbite meant both of Hugh’s legs has to be amputated below the knee. He defied medical expectations and in less than a year was climbing again, using prosthetics he had designed to both mimic and augment his feet so he could use small toeholds and ascend ice walls. His technical innovations and determination saw him climbing at an elite level again.
After leaving sport, Hugh returned to education. He studied for a masters in mechanical engineering at MIT and a PhD in biophysics at Harvard. He then focused his work on bionic limbs that would revolutionise the lives of those who had lost or were born without limbs. His work has covered mechanics, biological motion, rehabilitation, and neural interfaces. He and his team have patented many devices including the Active Leg Exoskeleton (ALEX) and Empower prosthetic foot. Products that not only enable people to enjoy more active lives, but that push the boundaries of understanding and emulating the human body. Hugh and his group also invented the Agonist-Antagonist Myoneural Interface, a surgical procedure for limb-loss patients that enables them to not only control prosthesis with their thoughts, but to also experience reactions to stimuli.
Hugh’s work has garnered media coverage and awards from around the world and throughout the technology, scientific, medical and governmental sectors, and his story was the subject of the National Geographic documentary Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr.
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