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  • Looking deeply inside nature,

  • through the magnifying glass of science,

  • designers extract principles, processes and materials

  • that are forming the very basis of design methodology.

  • From synthetic constructs that resemble biological materials,

  • to computational methods that emulate neural processes,

  • nature is driving design.

  • Design is also driving nature.

  • In realms of genetics, regenerative medicine and synthetic biology,

  • designers are growing novel technologies,

  • not foreseen or anticipated by nature.

  • Bionics explores the interplay between biology and design.

  • As you can see, my legs are bionic.

  • Today, I will tell human stories of bionic integration;

  • how electromechanics attached to the body, and implanted inside the body

  • are beginning to bridge the gap between disability and ability,

  • between human limitation and human potential.

  • Bionics has defined my physicality.

  • In 1982, both of my legs were amputated

  • due to tissue damage from frostbite,

  • incurred during a mountain-climbing accident.

  • At that time, I didn't view my body as broken.

  • I reasoned that a human being can never be "broken."

  • Technology is broken.

  • Technology is inadequate.

  • This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms,

  • to advance technology for the elimination of my own disability,

  • and ultimately, the disability of others.

  • I began by developing specialized limbs

  • that allowed me to return to the vertical world

  • of rock and ice climbing.

  • I quickly realized that the artificial part of my body is malleable;

  • able to take on any form, any function --

  • a blank slate for which to create,

  • perhaps, structures that could extend beyond biological capability.

  • I made my height adjustable.

  • I could be as short as five feet or as tall as I'd like.

  • (Laughter)

  • So when I was feeling bad about myself,

  • insecure, I would jack my height up.

  • (Laughter)

  • But when I was feeling confident and suave,

  • I would knock my height down a notch, just to give the competition a chance.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Narrow-edged feet allowed me to climb steep rock fissures,

  • where the human foot cannot penetrate,

  • and spiked feet enabled me to climb vertical ice walls,

  • without ever experiencing muscle leg fatigue.

  • Through technological innovation,

  • I returned to my sport, stronger and better.

  • Technology had eliminated my disability,

  • and allowed me a new climbing prowess.

  • As a young man, I imagined a future world where technology so advanced

  • could rid the world of disability,

  • a world in which neural implants would allow

  • the visually impaired to see.

  • A world in which the paralyzed could walk, via body exoskeletons.

  • Sadly, because of deficiencies in technology,

  • disability is rampant in the world.

  • This gentleman is missing three limbs.

  • As a testimony to current technology, he is out of the wheelchair,

  • but we need to do a better job in bionics, to allow, one day, full rehabilitation

  • for a person with this level of injury.

  • At the MIT Media Lab, we've established the Center for Extreme Bionics.

  • The mission of the center is to put forth fundamental science

  • and technological capability

  • that will allow the biomechatronic and regenerative repair of humans,

  • across a broad range of brain and body disabilities.

  • Today, I'm going to tell you how my legs function, how they work,

  • as a case in point for this center.

  • Now, I made sure to shave my legs last night,

  • because I knew I'd be showing them off.

  • (Laughter)

  • Bionics entails the engineering of extreme interfaces.

  • There's three extreme interfaces in my bionic limbs:

  • mechanical, how my limbs are attached to my biological body;

  • dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone;

  • and electrical, how they communicate with my nervous system.

  • I'll begin with mechanical interface.

  • In the area of design, we still do not understand

  • how to attach devices to the body mechanically.

  • It's extraordinary to me that in this day and age,

  • one of the most mature, oldest technologies

  • in the human timeline, the shoe, still gives us blisters.

  • How can this be?

  • We have no idea how to attach things to our bodies.

  • This is the beautifully lyrical design work

  • of Professor Neri Oxman at the MIT Media Lab,

  • showing spatially varying exoskeletal impedances,

  • shown here by color variation in this 3D-printed model.

  • Imagine a future where clothing is stiff and soft where you need it,

  • when you need it, for optimal support and flexibility,

  • without ever causing discomfort.

  • My bionic limbs are attached to my biological body

  • via synthetic skins with stiffness variations,

  • that mirror my underlying tissue biomechanics.

  • To achieve that mirroring, we first developed a mathematical model

  • of my biological limb.

  • To that end, we used imaging tools such as MRI,

  • to look inside my body,

  • to figure out the geometries and locations of various tissues.

  • We also took robotic tools --

  • here's a 14-actuator circle that goes around the biological limb.

  • The actuators come in, find the surface of the limb,

  • measure its unloaded shape,

  • and then they push on the tissues

  • to measure tissue compliances at each anatomical point.

  • We combine these imaging and robotic data

  • to build a mathematical description of my biological limb, shown on the left.

  • You see a bunch of points, or nodes?

  • At each node, there's a color that represents tissue compliance.

  • We then do a mathematical transformation to the design of the synthetic skin,

  • shown on the right.

  • And we've discovered optimality is:

  • where the body is stiff, the synthetic skin should be soft,

  • where the body is soft, the synthetic skin is stiff,

  • and this mirroring occurs across all tissue compliances.

  • With this framework, we've produced bionic limbs

  • that are the most comfortable limbs I've ever worn.

  • Clearly, in the future, our clothing, our shoes, our braces, our prostheses,

  • will no longer be designed and manufactured using artisan strategies,

  • but rather, data-driven quantitative frameworks.

  • In that future, our shoes will no longer give us blisters.

  • We're also embedding sensing and smart materials

  • into the synthetic skins.

  • This is a material developed by SRI International, California.

  • Under electrostatic effect, it changes stiffness.

  • So under zero voltage, the material is compliant,

  • it's floppy like paper.

  • Then the button's pushed, a voltage is applied,

  • and it becomes stiff as a board.

  • (Tapping sounds)

  • We embed this material into the synthetic skin

  • that attaches my bionic limb to my biological body.

  • When I walk here, it's no voltage.

  • My interface is soft and compliant.

  • The button's pushed, voltage is applied, and it stiffens,

  • offering me a greater maneuverability over the bionic limb.

  • We're also building exoskeletons.

  • This exoskeleton becomes stiff and soft

  • in just the right areas of the running cycle,

  • to protect the biological joints from high impacts and degradation.

  • In the future, we'll all be wearing exoskeletons

  • in common activities, such as running.

  • Next, dynamic interface.

  • How do my bionic limbs move like flesh and bone?

  • At my MIT lab, we study how humans with normal physiologies

  • stand, walk and run.

  • What are the muscles doing,

  • and how are they controlled by the spinal cord?

  • This basic science motivates what we build.

  • We're building bionic ankles, knees and hips.

  • We're building body parts from the ground up.

  • The bionic limbs that I'm wearing are called BiOMs.

  • They've been fitted to nearly 1,000 patients,

  • 400 of which have been wounded U.S. soldiers.

  • How does it work?

  • At heel strike, under computer control,

  • the system controls stiffness,

  • to attenuate the shock of the limb hitting the ground.

  • Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs high torques and powers

  • to lift the person into the walking stride,

  • comparable to how muscles work in the calf region.

  • This bionic propulsion is very important clinically to patients.

  • So on the left, you see the bionic device worn by a lady,

  • on the right, a passive device worn by the same lady,

  • that fails to emulate normal muscle function,

  • enabling her to do something everyone should be able to do:

  • go up and down their steps at home.

  • Bionics also allows for extraordinary athletic feats.

  • Here's a gentleman running up a rocky pathway.

  • This is Steve Martin -- not the comedian --

  • who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

  • We're also building exoskeletal structures using these same principles,

  • that wrap around the biological limb.

  • This gentleman does not have any leg condition, any disability.

  • He has a normal physiology,

  • so these exoskeletons are applying muscle-like torques and powers,

  • so that his own muscles need not apply those torques and powers.

  • This is the first exoskeleton in history that actually augments human walking.

  • It significantly reduces metabolic cost.

  • It's so profound in its augmentation,

  • that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutes

  • and then takes it off,

  • their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward.

  • We're beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies

  • will make us stronger and faster and more efficient.

  • Moving on to electrical interface:

  • How do my bionic limbs communicate with my nervous system?

  • Across my residual limb are electrodes

  • that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles.

  • That's communicated to the bionic limb,

  • so when I think about moving my phantom limb,

  • the robot tracks those movement desires.

  • This diagram shows fundamentally how the bionic limb is controlled.

  • So we model the missing biological limb,

  • and we've discovered what reflexes occurred,

  • how the reflexes of the spinal cord are controlling the muscles.

  • And that capability is embedded in the chips of the bionic limb.

  • What we've done, then, is we modulate the sensitivity of the reflex,

  • the modeled spinal reflex, with the neural signal,

  • so when I relax my muscles in my residual limb,

  • I get very little torque and power,

  • but the more I fire my muscles, the more torque I get,

  • and I can even run.

  • And that was the first demonstration of a running gait under neural command.

  • Feels great.

  • (Applause)

  • We want to go a step further.

  • We want to actually close the loop

  • between the human and the bionic external limb.

  • We're doing experiments

  • where we're growing nerves, transected nerves,

  • through channels, or micro-channel arrays.

  • On the other side of the channel,

  • the nerve then attaches to cells,

  • skin cells and muscle cells.

  • In the motor channels, we can sense how the person wishes to move.

  • That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb,

  • then [sensory information] on the bionic limb

  • can be converted to stimulations in adjacent channels,

  • sensory channels.

  • So when this is fully developed and for human use,

  • persons like myself will not only have

  • synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone,

  • but actually feel like flesh and bone.

  • This video shows Lisa Mallette,

  • shortly after being fitted with two bionic limbs.

  • Indeed, bionics is making a profound difference in people's lives.

  • (Video) Lisa Mallette: Oh my God.

  • LM: Oh my God, I can't believe it!

  • (Video) (Laughter)

  • LM: It's just like I've got a real leg!

  • Woman: Now, don't start running.

  • Man: Now turn around, and do the same thing walking up,

  • but get on your heel to toe, like you would normally just walk on level ground.

  • Try to walk right up the hill.

  • LM: Oh my God.

  • Man: Is it pushing you up?

  • LM: Yes! I'm not even -- I can't even describe it.

  • Man: It's pushing you right up.

  • Hugh Herr: Next week, I'm visiting the Center --

  • Thank you. Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • Next week I'm visiting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services,

  • and I'm going to try to convince CMS

  • to grant appropriate code language and pricing,

  • so this technology can be made available to the patients that need it.

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

  • It's not well appreciated, but over half of the world's population