Robotic limbs that move like their real-life counterparts and are controlled by the mind are a game changer for amputees. These innovative “smart limbs” being developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are possible because of the Ewing Amputation, or a procedure developed between MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital protects the nerves and muscles so the limb can continue to communicate with the brain.
So being both the scientist and the user I have advantages that other people don’t have. My legs are basically power tools. So I go home at night, I put my batteries into a charger. So when we did our first human patient and we put the bionic limb on him and we saw natural movements emerged, emerging through the mechatronics in natural ways it was truly exhilarating,” said MIT professor Hugh Herr, who helped develop the surgery and is leading development of the robotic limbs.
Hugh Herr, leader of MIT’s biomechatronics research group, lost both legs below the knees to frostbite in a climbing accident in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in the early 1980s. Today, he wears two next-generation prosthetic legs that produce a faint percussive buzz like the sound of a tiny electric drill. A doctor told him he would never climb again after the accident, but still hopeful, Herr used a local machine shop to build custom prostheses from rubber, metal, and wood. He ended up creating a set of small feet that could find a foothold where his old pair would have slipped and a spiked set he could use to ascend the steepest walls of ice. Herr then went on to become as confident a climber after his accident as he’d ever been before.