Hugh Herr

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Leader of the Bionic Age; Champion for Creating Technology to Improve the Human Body and Redefine Human Potential; Professor & Leader, MIT Center for Extreme Bionics

Biography

Hugh Herr isn’t just developing smarter, more capable bionic limbs. He’s redefining human potential and designing a world in which technology erases disability. More than the preeminent expert and technologist in his field, Herr is a living inspiration. His TED talk, which ended with a standing ovation and was viewed nearly seven million times, is a shining example of Herr’s ability to deliver engaging speeches that lift the hearts and minds of audiences across professions.

When technology meets biology, the interface is rarely flawless; the devices often hinder the bodies they’re designed to help. Herr, a renowned engineer and biophysicist who lost both legs in a climbing incident more than 30 years ago, believes technologists can, and must, do better. Today, as leader of MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group, he’s building the next generation of robotic prosthetics, sophisticated devices that aid human movement by mimicking nature. Coined “Leader of the Bionic Age” by TIME, Herr and his team are translating tricks the human body uses to move more efficiently into the science and technology that not only restores function to those who’ve lost it, but also enhances and extends their capabilities.

It’s rare for a researcher’s work and personal history to be so entwined. Herr walks on bionic legs his lab designed. As both an avid, accomplished rock climber and a prostheses user, he has direct experience with frustratingly poor prosthetic designs. He also has the drive – an athlete’s competitive spirit – to overcome them. As passionate as he is intense, Herr connects deeply with his audiences and moves them, encouraging everyone to see – and even share – his vision for melding technology with biology.

In addition to his Biomechatronics Group post, Herr is a professor of media arts and science at MIT Media Lab, as well as co-director of the MIT Center for Extreme Bionics. He is the author and co-author of more than 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts and patents chronicling the science and technology behind his many innovations – from computer-controlled artificial knees and active leg exoskeletons to powered ankle-foot prostheses – several of which were recognized as TIME Top Ten Inventions. Other accolades include 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 is the founder of BionX Inc., a company that commercializes the EmPower Ankle-Foot Prosthesis, first in a series of products that will emulate physiological function through electromechanical replacement. Today, the EmPower Ankle-Foot Prosthesis has been clinically shown to be the first leg prosthesis in history to reach human normalization, allowing amputees to walk with normal levels of speed and metabolism as if their legs were biological once again.

Herr’s gripping story has been told in a National Geographic film, Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr, as well as in episodes and articles featured in CNN, The Economist, Discover and Nature. He earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT and his doctorate in biophysics at Harvard University.

Hugh Herr is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Videos

Books & Research

Second Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr by Alison Osius

(Stackpole Books, September 1991)

Media

Brain-Controlled Bionic Limbs Developed At MIT

December 17, 2018

The Pace Maker - New Prosthesis Comes Closer to Nature

September 4, 2018

Forget Cyberpunk 2077, Meet the Bionic Man Creating Real Augmentations

August 2, 2018

The Pace Maker

August 1, 2018

Pioneering Surgery Makes a Prosthetic Foot Feel Like the Real Thing

May 30, 2018

Bionic Man Hugh Herr on His Robot Legs and Making Great Strides in Technology

May 29, 2018

How to Invent the Future: A Look at the Most Promising Pioneers in Technology

April 25, 2018

This New Prosthetic Limb Transmits Sensations Directly To The Nervous System

April 17, 2018

How MIT Media Lab is Advancing Human Physicality, Cognition, and Emotional Experience Through Ionic Augmentation

March 16, 2018

'Bionic Man' Hugh Herr Speaks at UVU on Future of Tech and Disabilities

March 7, 2018

Bionic Limbs Could be Better and Feelable the Near Future

November 22, 2017

The $100 Million Dollar Plan to End Paralysis

September 6, 2017

When Your Body Becomes Eligible for an Upgrade

July 15, 2017

The Prosthetic of the Future

November 21, 2016

strategy+business logo

Hugh Herr Wants to Build a More Perfect Human

October 3, 2016

The New Bionic Man: How Hugh Herr is Changing Lives

August 1, 2016

popular science logo

Hugh Herr on the Future of Bionics

October 29, 2015

'In the Future We Will Wear Robots,' says MIT 'Bionic' Professor

October 19, 2015

MIT Technology Review logo

The Body Electric

October 21, 2014

Advanced Bionic Limbs Could Redefine Disabilities

April 19, 2014

Wall Street Journal logo

The Weekend Interview With Hugh Herr: The Liberating Age of Bionics

July 12, 2013

CNN logo

Hugh Herr, Bionic Man

March 20, 2012

NPR logo

The Double Amputee Who Designs Better Limbs

August 10, 2011

Best Foot Forward

March 2009

Intro Video

Video Thumbnail

A-Z Name

Herr, Hugh

Biography

Hugh Herr isn’t just developing smarter, more capable bionic limbs. He’s redefining human potential and designing a world in which technology erases disability. More than the preeminent expert and technologist in his field, Herr is a living inspiration. His TED talk, which ended with a standing ovation and was viewed nearly seven million times, is a shining example of Herr’s ability to deliver engaging speeches that lift the hearts and minds of audiences across professions.

When technology meets biology, the interface is rarely flawless; the devices often hinder the bodies they’re designed to help. Herr, a renowned engineer and biophysicist who lost both legs in a climbing incident more than 30 years ago, believes technologists can, and must, do better. Today, as leader of MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group, he’s building the next generation of robotic prosthetics, sophisticated devices that aid human movement by mimicking nature. Coined “Leader of the Bionic Age” by TIME, Herr and his team are translating tricks the human body uses to move more efficiently into the science and technology that not only restores function to those who’ve lost it, but also enhances and extends their capabilities.

It’s rare for a researcher’s work and personal history to be so entwined. Herr walks on bionic legs his lab designed. As both an avid, accomplished rock climber and a prostheses user, he has direct experience with frustratingly poor prosthetic designs. He also has the drive – an athlete’s competitive spirit – to overcome them. As passionate as he is intense, Herr connects deeply with his audiences and moves them, encouraging everyone to see – and even share – his vision for melding technology with biology.

In addition to his Biomechatronics Group post, Herr is a professor of media arts and science at MIT Media Lab, as well as co-director of the MIT Center for Extreme Bionics. He is the author and co-author of more than 150 peer-reviewed manuscripts and patents chronicling the science and technology behind his many innovations – from computer-controlled artificial knees and active leg exoskeletons to powered ankle-foot prostheses – several of which were recognized as TIME Top Ten Inventions. Other accolades include 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 is the founder of BionX Inc., a company that commercializes the EmPower Ankle-Foot Prosthesis, first in a series of products that will emulate physiological function through electromechanical replacement. Today, the EmPower Ankle-Foot Prosthesis has been clinically shown to be the first leg prosthesis in history to reach human normalization, allowing amputees to walk with normal levels of speed and metabolism as if their legs were biological once again.

Herr’s gripping story has been told in a National Geographic film, Ascent: The Story of Hugh Herr, as well as in episodes and articles featured in CNN, The Economist, Discover and Nature. He earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering at MIT and his doctorate in biophysics at Harvard University.

Hugh Herr is available for paid speaking engagements, including keynote addresses, speeches, panels, and conference talks, and advisory/consulting services, through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.

Speech Topics

The New Era of Extreme Bionics

Society is at the threshold of a new age when machines will no longer be separate, lifeless mechanisms, but will instead be intimate extensions of the human body. Such a merging of body and machine will not only improve the quality of life for disabled people, but will allow persons with normal physiologies to experience augmented capabilities – cognitively, emotionally and physically. There soon will be a world where technology will merge with our bodies to forever change our concept of human capability. Hugh Herr features research work from MIT’s Center for Extreme Bionics that is blurring the distinction between “able-bodied” and “disabled,” demonstrating technologies at the neural-digital interface. These new research initiatives are capable of addressing a plethora of conditions currently at clinical impasses, from optogenetic approaches to treat blindness to the development of smart prostheses that can emulate – and even exceed the capabilities of biological limbs. Herr believes that through an ever-increasing technological sophistication, human disability will largely be eliminated in this 21st century, setting the stage for innovations that will ultimately benefit all humanity.

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