When he was 17, rock climber Hugh Herr got lost in a blizzard during an ice-climbing trip. He survived, but lost both legs to frostbite and gangrene. Twelve months later, fitted with homemade prosthetic legs, Herr returned to climbing. Soon, he was scaling rock faces no one had ever successfully climbed before—the prosthetic legs actually helped him become a better climber. He became obsessed with building prosthetics and finding ways to make the artificial limbs move more naturally.

Now, more than three decades later, Herr is the head of the Biomechatronics research group at MIT Media Lab and a pioneer in prosthetics technology. In an interview with WIRED, Herr describes the work he’s been doing to build prosthetic legs inspired by nature, bridging the gap between human and machine. 

By studying how the muscles in the human leg really work, he’s developed sophisticated computer-controlled prosthetics that automatically adjust to changes in speed or incline, making it easier to walk up stairs, run, and even climb. “One can imagine a world in which technologies are so remarkably great that we can eliminate disability,” Herr explains. “And I believe that will happen in this century.”

[h/t: WIRED]

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