Hugh Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics group at the MIT Media Lab, is creating bionic limbs that emulate the function of natural limbs. In 2011, TIME magazine coined him the “Leader of the Bionic Age” because of his revolutionary work in the emerging field of biomechatronics – technology that marries human physiology with electromechanics.
A double amputee himself, Herr is responsible for breakthrough advances in bionic limbs that provide greater mobility and new hope to those with physical disabilities. He is the author and co-author of more than 150 peer-reviewed papers and patents, chronicling the science and technology behind his many innovations. These publications span the scientific fields of biomechanics and biological motion control, as well as the technological innovations of human rehabilitation and augmentation technologies. As published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation in 2014, Herr’s team advanced the first autonomous exoskeleton to reduce the metabolic cost of human walking, a goal that has eluded scientists for over a century.
In the field of human rehabilitation, Herr’s Biomechatronics group has developed gait-adaptive knee prostheses for transfemoral amputees and variable impedance ankle-foot orthoses for patients suffering from drop foot, a gait pathology caused by stroke, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis. He has also designed his own bionic limbs, the world's first bionic lower leg called the BiOM Ankle System. As published in the 2012 Proceedings of the Royal Society, the BiOM Ankle System has been clinically shown to be the first leg prosthesis to achieve biomechanical and physiological normalization, allowing persons with leg amputation to walk with normal levels of speed and metabolism as if their legs were biological once again.
Herr has received many accolades for his groundbreaking innovations, including the 13th Annual Heinz Award for Technology, the Economy and Employment; the Prince Salman Award for Disability Research; the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award in Technology; the 14th Innovator of the Year Award; the 41st Inventor of the Year Award; and the 2016 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research.
Herr's story has been told in a National Geographic film, “Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr.” He has also been featured on CNN and other broadcasters and in many press articles, including The Economist, Discover, and Nature.