Called the “Leader of the Bionic Age” by Time magazine, Hugh Herr is co-director of the Center for Extreme Bionics at the MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in “biomechatronics,” technology that combines human physiology and electromechanical devices.
Herr’s research group is building the next generation of smart, microprocessor-laden prosthetic knees, legs, and ankles. A double amputee himself (he lost his legs below his knees to frostbite after a teenage mountaineering accident), Herr has devoted his working life to restoring mobility to the physically challenged. “Remove technology,” Herr says, “and I am imprisoned. All I can do is crawl. But with it I am free.” Herr’s smart biohybrid prosthetics aim not only to restore normal physicality but to enhance human mobility beyond innate physiological levels, enabling people to walk and run faster and jump higher while expending less metabolic energy.
His work raises provocative questions about able-bodied individuals choosing to be bionic and making those decisions for their children. Herr, for one, welcomes a biotechnological world where physical disability is no more and every person has wide choice over their physicality and can transcend their innate biology if they want to.