A Conversation with Hugh Herr

After the SolidWorks World Day 1 General Session, I was fortunate enough to catch up with Hugh Herr, director of the Biomechatronics Group at the MIT Media Lab, as he was leaving the session hall. A dynamic personality in person as he is on stage and on television, Hugh answered a few of the questions I had after his presentation…

Hugh Herr on the cover of Wired magazine with American athlete Amy Mullins
Hugh Herr on the cover of Wired magazine with American athlete Amy Mullins

1. What is your job like day to day?

I direct the Biomechatronics Group within the MIT Media Lab. The Group comprises of about 35 students, postdocs and research staff all conducting critical research in limb bionics. As director, my job is to set the research vector for the Group, and to raise adequate funds to support the Group’s various research initiatives.

2. How does mountain climbing with prosthetics compare with mountain climbing before?

My artificial climbing legs offer several advantages over biological legs. Most critical among these advantages is weight; my artificial legs are significantly lighter than a biological leg, allowing me to have an augmented strength to weight ratio.

Hugh Herr presenting on stage at the Day 1 General Session of SolidWorks World 2014
Hugh Herr presenting on stage at the Day 1 General Session of SolidWorks World 2014

3. What is your favorite place to mountain climb?

My favorite mountain range in the world is the Dolomite in the Italian Alps. Steep, featured limestone walls make for a challenging climb, and the food is delicious too!

4. How do you see prosthetic science evolving in the future?

In the future, our bodies and minds will seamlessly integrate with the synthetic, built world. In this integration, nature will drive design; the designer will create synthetic prostheses that behave like their biological counterparts. Additionally, design will drive nature; using tools emerging from regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, the designer will create new nature.

Rick Chin talking to Hugh Herr about rock climbing with prosthetics at SolidWorks World 2014
Rick Chin talking to Hugh Herr about rock climbing with prosthetics at SolidWorks World 2014

5. Can you use the prosthetic limbs to swim in water? How do they behave in different weather conditions?

My MIT research group is now designing aquatic fins that attach to the residuum of an amputated limb, enabling persons with leg amputation to swim like mermaids!

6. What happens if you slip with prosthetics?

Remarkably, I have an awareness that my prosthetic foot is slipping from mechanical vibrations passing through the prosthesis to my biological residual limb, thus allowing me to remain upright while traversing an icy ground surface.

7. How do you see athletics and fitness changing/evolving with the advent of prosthetics?

Many human augmentation technologies will be invented in the coming decades that will enable humans to experience an enhanced physicality.  Powered exoskeletons will increase running efficiency, speed and reduce musculoskeletal stress; aquatic exoskeletons will augment swimming endurance and speed; and spider suits will enable enhanced abilities to climb smooth vertical walls. Analogous to the connection between the invention of the bicycle and the sport of cycling, such new augmentation technologies will naturally result in new sports being practiced – power running, power swimming, power climbing…

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Asya Bashina

Asya Bashina

Subscription Services Marketing Specialist at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks
Subscription Services Marketing Specialist. Brand Marketing pro and travel enthusiast with a sense of humor.
Asya Bashina
Asya Bashina
  • Alan MacRae

    It was a privilege to listen to Hugh Herr at SolidWorks World 2014. Truly amazing work by him and the team at MIT.