The Robotics Institute

RI | Seminar | March 3, 2006

Robotics Institute Seminar, March 3, 2006
Time and Place | Seminar Abstract | Speaker Biography | Speaker Appointments

New Horizons for Orthotic & Prosthetic Technology: Merging Body and Machine

Hugh Herr
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Assistant Professor, Media Arts and Sciences
Assistant Professor, MIT-Harvard Division of Health Sciences and Technology

Time and Place

Mauldin Auditorium (NSH 1305)
Refreshments 3:15 pm
Talk 3:30 pm


Rehabilitation technology is at the threshold of a new age when orthotic and prosthetic devices will no longer be separate, lifeless mechanisms, but will instead be intimate extensions of the human body-- structurally, neurologically, and dynamically. Such a merging of body and machine will not only increase the acceptance of the physically challenged into society, but will also enable individuals suffering from limb dysfunction to more readily accept their new artificial appendages as part of their own body. Several scientific and technological advances will accelerate this mergence, including the development of actuator technologies that behave like muscle, control methodologies that exploit principles of biological movement, and device architectures that resemble the body’s own musculoskeletal design.

In this talk, I describe research activities in rehabilitation science and engineering currently under development at the Biomechatronics Group within MIT’s Media Lab.  I discuss how variable-impedance actuation and polyarticular limb architectures can result in efficient, low-mass, and quiet legged systems for walking.  In addition, I emphasize the importance of harnessing both zero-moment and moment balance control strategies for the enhancement of bipedal stability and dynamic cosmesis.  A key focus of the lecture is the importance of biologically-inspired hardware and control architectures in the implementation of highly functional legged systems for prosthetic, orthotic and robotic applications. 

Speaker Biography

Hugh Herr is Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences and Health Sciences and Technology. His primary research objective is to apply principles of muscle mechanics, neural control and human biomechanics to guide the designs of biomimetic robots, human rehabilitation devices, and augmentation technologies that amplify the endurance and strength of humans. Professor Herr has advanced novel actuation strategies, including the use of animal-derived muscle to power robots in the millimeter to centimeter size scale. He has employed cross bridge models of skeletal muscle to the design and optimization of a new class of human-powered mechanisms that amplify endurance for cyclic anaerobic activities. He has also built elastic shoes that increase aerobic endurance in walking and running. In the field of human rehabilitation, Professor Herr’s group has developed gait adaptive knee prostheses for transfemoral amputees and variable impedance ankle-foot orthoses for patients suffering from drop foot, a gait pathology caused by stroke, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.

Speaker Appointments

For appointments, please contact Janice Brochetti (

The Robotics Institute is part of the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.