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TED2014

Hugh Herr: The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance

March 12, 2014

Hugh Herr is building the next generation of bionic limbs, robotic prosthetics inspired by nature's own designs. Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago; now, as the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, he shows his incredible technology in a talk that's both technical and deeply personal — with the help of ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and performs again for the first time on the TED stage.

Hugh Herr - Bionics designer
At MIT, Hugh Herr builds prosthetic knees, legs and ankles that fuse biomechanics with microprocessors to restore normal gait, balance, speed -- and perhaps to enhance. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
Looking deeply inside nature
00:12
through the magnifying glass of science,
00:15
designers extract principles,
00:18
processes and materials
00:20
that are forming the very
basis of design methodology,
00:22
from synthetic constructs that resemble
00:26
biological materials
00:29
to computational methods that
emulate neural processes,
00:31
nature is driving design.
00:35
Design is also driving nature.
00:39
In realms of genetics, regenerative medicine
00:42
and synthetic biology,
00:43
designers are growing novel technologies
00:45
not foreseen or anticipated by nature.
00:48
Bionics explores the interplay
00:52
between biology and design.
00:56
As you can see, my legs are bionic.
00:58
Today I will tell human stories
01:02
of bionic integration,
01:05
how electromechanics attached to the body
01:08
and implanted inside the body
01:11
are beginning to bridge the gap
01:13
between disability and ability,
01:16
between human limitation
01:18
and human potential.
01:21
Bionics has defined my physicality.
01:24
In 1982, both of my legs were amputated
01:27
due to tissue damage from frostbite
01:30
incurred during a mountain climbing accident.
01:32
At that time, I didn't view my body
01:35
as broken.
01:37
I reasoned that a human being
01:39
can never be broken.
01:42
Technology is broken.
01:45
Technology is inadequate.
01:48
This simple but powerful idea
01:51
was a call to arms
01:53
to advance technology
01:55
for the elimination of my own disability
01:57
and ultimately the disability of others.
02:00
I began by developing specialized limbs
02:04
that allowed me to return
02:07
to the vertical world of rock and ice climbing.
02:08
I quickly realized that the artificial part of my body
02:11
is malleable,
02:14
able to take on any form, any function,
02:16
a blank slate through which to create
02:19
perhaps structures that could extend beyond
02:22
biological capability.
02:26
I made my height adjustable.
02:28
I could be as short as five feet or as tall as I'd like.
02:30
(Laughter)
02:33
So when I was feeling badly about myself,
02:35
insecure, I would jack my height up,
02:38
but when I was feeling confident and suave,
02:42
I would knock my height down a notch
02:44
just to give the competition a chance.
02:46
(Laughter) (Applause)
02:49
Narrow, wedged feet allowed me to climb
02:52
steep rock fissures
02:55
where the human foot cannot penetrate,
02:56
and spiked feet enabled me to climb
02:58
vertical ice walls
03:01
without ever experiencing muscle leg fatigue.
03:03
Through technological innovation,
03:07
I returned to my sport stronger and better.
03:09
Technology had eliminated my disability
03:12
and allowed me a new climbing prowess.
03:14
As a young man, I imagined a future world
03:17
where technology so advanced
03:18
could rid the world of disability,
03:20
a world in which neural implants would allow
03:22
the visually impaired to see,
03:24
a world in which the paralyzed could walk
03:26
via body exoskeletons.
03:29
Sadly, because of deficiencies in technology,
03:32
disability is rampant in the world.
03:34
This gentleman is missing three limbs.
03:36
As a testimony to current technology,
03:39
he is out of the wheelchair,
03:42
but we need to do a better job in bionics
03:43
to allow one day full rehabilitation
03:46
for a person with this level of injury.
03:49
At the MIT Media Lab, we've established
03:53
the Center for Extreme Bionics.
03:55
The mission of the center
03:57
is to put forth fundamental science
03:58
and technological capability that will allow
04:01
the biomechatronic and regenerative repair of humans
04:04
across a broad range
04:07
of brain and body disabilities.
04:09
Today, I'm going to tell you how my legs function,
04:13
how they work,
04:15
as a case in point for this center.
04:17
Now, I made sure to shave my legs last night,
04:20
because I knew I'd be showing them off.
04:22
Bionics entails the engineering
of extreme interfaces.
04:26
There's three extreme interfaces in my bionic limbs:
04:29
mechanical, how my limbs are attached
04:32
to my biological body;
04:34
dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone;
04:36
and electrical, how they communicate
04:39
with my nervous system.
04:41
I'll begin with mechanical interface.
04:42
In the area of design, we still do not understand
04:45
how to attach devices to the body mechanically.
04:48
It's extraordinary to me that in this day and age,
04:52
one of the most mature, oldest technologies
04:56
in the human timeline, the shoe,
04:58
still gives us blisters.
05:00
How can this be?
05:02
We have no idea how to attach things to our bodies.
05:04
This is the beautifully lyrical design work
05:07
of Professor Neri Oxman at the MIT Media Lab,
05:10
showing spatially varying exoskeletal impedances,
05:13
shown here by color variation
05:16
in this 3D-printed model.
05:18
Imagine a future where clothing
05:21
is stiff and soft where you need it,
05:23
when you need it, for optimal support and flexibility,
05:25
without ever causing discomfort.
05:29
My bionic limbs are attached to my biological body
05:31
via synthetic skins
05:34
with stiffness variations
05:37
that mirror my underlying tissue biomechanics.
05:39
To achieve that mirroring,
05:43
we first developed a mathematical model
05:45
of my biological limb.
05:47
To that end, we used imaging tools such as MRI
05:48
to look inside my body
05:51
to figure out the geometries and locations
05:53
of various tissues.
05:55
We also took robotic tools.
05:57
Here's a 14-actuator circle
05:58
that goes around the biological limb.
06:01
The actuators come in, find the surface of the limb,
06:04
measure its unloaded shape,
06:07
and then they push on the tissues
06:09
to measure tissue compliances
06:11
at each anatomical point.
06:13
We combine these imaging and robotic data
06:15
to build a mathematical description
06:17
of my biological limb, shown on the left.
06:19
You see a bunch of points, or nodes.
06:21
At each node, there's a color that
represents tissue compliance.
06:22
We then do a mathematical transformation
06:25
to the design of the synthetic skin
06:27
shown on the right,
06:30
and we've discovered optimality is
06:31
where the body is stiff, the
synthetic skin should be soft,
06:33
where the body is soft,
the synthetic skin is stiff,
06:36
and this mirroring occurs
06:40
across all tissue compliances.
06:41
With this framework,
06:44
we produced bionic limbs
06:45
that are the most comfortable limbs I've ever worn.
06:47
Clearly in the future,
06:50
our clothing, our shoes, our braces,
06:52
our prostheses, will no longer be designed
06:55
and manufactured using artisan strategies,
06:58
but rather data-driven quantitative frameworks.
07:00
In that future, our shoes
07:03
will no longer give us blisters.
07:05
We're also embedding sensing and smart materials
07:08
into the synthetic skins.
07:11
This is a material
07:13
developed by SRI International, California.
07:14
Under electrostatic effect, it changes stiffness.
07:17
So under zero voltage, the material is compliant.
07:20
It's floppy like paper.
07:24
Then the button's pushed, a voltage is applied,
07:25
and it becomes stiff as a board.
07:28
We embed this material into the synthetic skin
07:33
that attaches my bionic limb to my biological body.
07:36
When I walk here,
07:39
it's no voltage.
07:40
My interface is soft and compliant.
07:42
The button's pushed, voltage is applied,
07:44
and it stiffens,
07:45
offering me a greater maneuverability
07:47
of the bionic limb.
07:48
We're also building exoskeletons.
07:50
This exoskeleton becomes stiff and soft
07:52
in just the right areas of the running cycle
07:55
to protect the biological joints
07:57
from high impacts and degradation.
07:59
In the future, we'll all be wearing exoskeletons
08:02
in common activities such as running.
08:05
Next, dynamic interface.
08:08
How do my bionic limbs move like flesh and bone?
08:10
At my MIT lab, we study how humans
08:13
with normal physiologies stand, walk and run.
08:15
What are the muscles doing,
08:18
and how are they controlled by the spinal cord?
08:20
This basic science motivates what we build.
08:23
We're building bionic ankles, knees and hips.
08:25
We're building body parts from the ground up.
08:28
The bionic limbs that I'm wearing are called BiOMs.
08:31
They've been fitted to nearly 1,000 patients,
08:34
400 of which have been U.S. wounded soldiers.
08:38
How does it work? At heel
strike, under computer control,
08:41
the system controls stiffness
08:44
to attenuate the shock of the limb hitting the ground.
08:46
Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs
08:49
high torques and powers to lift the person
08:52
into the walking stride,
08:55
comparable to how muscles work in the calf region.
08:56
This bionic propulsion is very important
09:00
clinically to patients.
09:03
So, on the left you see the bionic device
09:04
worn by a lady --
09:06
on the right a passive device worn by the same lady
09:07
that fails to emulate normal muscle function --
09:10
enabling her to do something
09:13
everyone should be able to do,
09:15
go up and down their steps at home.
09:17
Bionics also allows for extraordinary athletic feats.
09:19
Here's a gentleman running up a rocky pathway.
09:22
This is Steve Martin, not the comedian,
09:27
who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.
09:29
We're also building exoskeletal structures
09:33
using these same principles
09:36
that wrap around a biological limb.
09:38
This gentleman does not have
09:41
any leg condition, any disability.
09:44
He has a normal physiology,
09:47
so these exoskeletons are applying
09:49
muscle-like torques and powers
09:51
so that his own muscles need not apply
09:54
those torques and powers.
09:56
This is the first exoskeleton in history
09:58
that actually augments human walking.
10:01
It significantly reduces metabolic cost.
10:03
It's so profound in its augmentation
10:07
that when a normal, healthy person
10:09
wears the device for 40 minutes
10:11
and then takes it off,
10:13
their own biological legs
10:14
feel ridiculously heavy and awkward.
10:16
We're beginning the age in which
10:19
machines attached to our bodies
10:21
will make us stronger and faster
10:23
and more efficient.
10:25
Moving on to electrical interface,
10:27
how do my bionic limbs communicate
10:28
with my nervous system?
10:30
Across my residual limb are electrodes
10:32
that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles.
10:34
That's communicated to the bionic limb,
10:36
so when I think about moving my phantom limb,
10:39
the robot tracks those movement desires.
10:41
This diagram shows fundamentally
10:45
how the bionic limb is controlled,
10:47
so we model the missing biological limb,
10:50
and we've discovered what reflexes occurred,
10:52
how the reflexes of the spinal cord
10:55
are controlling the muscles,
10:57
and that capability is embedded
10:58
in the chips of the bionic limb.
11:01
What we've done, then, is we modulate
11:04
the sensitivity of the reflex,
11:06
the modeled spinal reflex,
11:08
with the neural signal,
11:10
so when I relax my muscles in my residual limb,
11:11
I get very little torque and power,
11:15
but the more I fire my muscles,
11:18
the more torque I get,
11:19
and I can even run.
11:21
And that was the first demonstration
11:23
of a running gait under neural command.
11:25
Feels great.
11:28
(Applause)
11:30
We want to go a step further.
11:35
We want to actually close the loop
11:37
between the human and the bionic external limb.
11:40
We're doing experiments where we're growing
11:43
nerves, transected nerves,
11:45
through channels, or micro-channel rays.
11:47
On the other side of the channel,
11:49
the nerve then attaches to cells,
11:51
skin cells and muscle cells.
11:54
In the motor channels we can sense
11:56
how the person wishes to move.
11:59
That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb,
12:00
then sensors on the bionic limb
12:03
can be converted to stimulations
12:06
in adjacent channels, sensory channels.
12:08
So, when this is fully developed
12:11
and for human use,
12:13
persons like myself will not only have
12:15
synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone,
12:18
but actually feel like flesh and bone.
12:21
This video shows Lisa Mallette
12:25
shortly after being fitted with two bionic limbs.
12:28
Indeed, bionics is making
12:30
a profound difference in people's lives.
12:32
(Video) Lisa Mallette: Oh my God.
12:35
Oh my God, I can't believe it.
12:39
It's just like I've got a real leg.
12:43
Now, don't start running.
12:48
Man: Now turn around,
12:50
and do the same thing walking up.
12:51
Walk up, get on your heel to toe,
12:53
like you would normally just walk on level ground.
12:55
Try to walk right up the hill.
12:56
LM: Oh my God.
13:00
Man: Is it pushing you up?
13:03
LM: Yes! I'm not even -- I can't even describe it.
13:04
Man: It's pushing you right up.
13:10
Hugh Herr: Next week, I'm visiting the center's —
13:12
(Applause) Thank you, thank you.
13:15
Thank you. Next week I'm visiting
13:19
the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
13:21
and I'm going to try to convince CMS
13:24
to grant appropriate code language and pricing
13:27
so this technology can be made available
13:29
to the patients that need it.
13:31
Thank you. (Applause)
13:34
It's not well appreciated, but over half
13:39
of the world's population
13:41
suffers from some form of cognitive,
13:43
emotional, sensory or motor condition,
13:45
and because of poor technology,
13:48
too often, conditions result in disability
13:49
and a poorer quality of life.
13:52
Basic levels of physiological function
13:54
should be a part of our human rights.
13:57
Every person should have the right
13:59
to live life without disability
14:01
if they so choose --
14:03
the right to live life without severe depression;
14:05
the right to see a loved one
14:08
in the case of seeing impaired;
14:09
or the right to walk or to dance,
14:11
in the case of limb paralysis
14:13
or limb amputation.
14:15
As a society, we can achieve these human rights
14:17
if we accept the proposition
14:20
that humans are not disabled.
14:23
A person can never be broken.
14:27
Our built environment, our technologies,
14:30
are broken and disabled.
14:33
We the people need not accept our limitations,
14:34
but can transcend disability
14:37
through technological innovation.
14:40
Indeed, through fundamental advances
14:42
in bionics in this century,
14:43
we will set the technological foundation
14:45
for an enhanced human experience,
14:48
and we will end disability.
14:50
I'd like to finish up with one more story,
14:52
a beautiful story,
14:55
the story of Adrianne Haslet-Davis.
14:57
Adrianne lost her left leg
14:59
in the Boston terrorist attack.
15:01
I met Adrianne when this photo was taken
15:04
at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
15:06
Adrianne is a dancer, a ballroom dancer.
15:08
Adrianne breathes and lives dance.
15:10
It is her expression. It is her art form.
15:13
Naturally, when she lost her limb
15:16
in the Boston terrorist attack,
15:18
she wanted to return to the dance floor.
15:20
After meeting her and driving home in my car,
15:23
I thought, I'm an MIT professor.
15:25
I have resources. Let's build her a bionic limb
15:28
to enable her to go back to her life of dance.
15:31
I brought in MIT scientists with expertise
15:34
in prosthetics, robotics, machine learning
15:37
and biomechanics,
15:39
and over a 200-day research period,
15:41
we studied dance.
15:43
We brought in dancers with biological limbs,
15:44
and we studied how do they move,
15:48
what forces do they apply on the dance floor,
15:51
and we took those data
15:54
and we put forth fundamental principles of dance,
15:56
reflexive dance capability,
16:00
and we embedded that intelligence
16:02
into the bionic limb.
16:03
Bionics is not only about making people
16:05
stronger and faster.
16:07
Our expression, our humanity
16:09
can be embedded into electromechanics.
16:11
It was 3.5 seconds
16:14
between the bomb blasts
16:17
in the Boston terrorist attack.
16:19
In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards
16:21
took Adrianne off the dance floor.
16:24
In 200 days, we put her back.
16:27
We will not be intimidated, brought down,
16:29
diminished, conquered or stopped
16:32
by acts of violence.
16:35
(Applause)
16:36
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce
16:44
Adrianne Haslet-Davis,
16:47
her first performance since the attack.
16:48
She's dancing with Christian Lightner.
16:51
(Applause)
16:54
(Music: "Ring My Bell" performed by Enrique Iglesias)
17:05
(Applause)
17:51
Ladies and gentlemen,
18:22
members of the research team,
18:23
Elliott Rouse and Nathan Villagaray-Carski.
18:24
Elliott and Nathan.
18:29
(Applause)
18:32

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Hugh Herr - Bionics designer
At MIT, Hugh Herr builds prosthetic knees, legs and ankles that fuse biomechanics with microprocessors to restore normal gait, balance, speed -- and perhaps to enhance.

Why you should listen

Hugh Herr directs the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, where he is pioneering a new class of biohybrid smart prostheses and exoskeletons to improve the quality of life for thousands of people with physical challenges. A computer-controlled prosthesis called the Rheo Knee, for instance, is outfitted with a microprocessor that continually senses the joint's position and the loads applied to the limb. A powered ankle-foot prosthesis called the BiOM emulates the action of a biological leg to create a natural gait, allowing amputees to walk with normal levels of speed and metabolism as if their legs were biological.

Herr is the founder and chief technology officer of BiOM Inc., which markets the BiOM as the first in a series of products that will emulate or even augment physiological function through electromechanical replacement. You can call it (as they do) "personal bionics."

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