Hugh Herr, Master of Bionics and Biomechanics

Hugh Herr, Master of Bionics and Biomechanics

Photograph by Matthew Septimus


A man with several legs


Hugh Herr is 55 years old, and was born in Pennsylvania. He has a Ph.D. in Biophysics, and currently lives in Boston, on an ecological and self-sustaining farm.

This excellent professor and research leader uses multiple pairs of legs: some for each day, others for running, three for ice climbing and others for scuba diving.

The reason is that at the age of 17, due to an accident, a climbing partner and himself survived four days subjected to extreme temperatures.

The fatal result of that was that his biological legs froze and had to be subsequently amputated.

From a young age he was interested in sports, especially climbing. So before the accident that caused him to lose both legs, he was a lousy biomechanics student..

He lived in those days focused on his results as an athlete, and he didn’t care about much more.

After that, he decided he wanted to climb again, and devoted his time and efforts to designing a new legs.

His work was so good that twelve months after the accident he was even a better climber than before the accident.

And all this thanks to «orthopedic» legs.

Hugh Herr

Photography by Simon Bruty


The coming future, according to Hugh Herr


And we say «orthopedic» in quotation marks, because although they are still so, their technology is so extraordinary that they can be considered almost «science fiction».

«Orthopedic» limbs that you feel like your own, when you realize you can control pressure and force. When we are given the option of perceiving cold or heat, or having the sensation of touch, as if it were our original legs or arms.

Connected directly to the brain, through the nerves, the person who has been implanted with one of these wonders of bionics and biomechanics feels that it is part of their body, in a spontaneous and natural way.

According to Hugh Herr, physical disabilities will cease to exist by the year 2050 or 2060.

He even affirms that we will have transportation systems that will be like our clothing. This will change our cities, because we will no longer need all these paved streets, and we will be able to coexist with nature.

Defend the idea that in the future everything must be local, food and technology. Eliminate distribution, expensive for the planet and source of inequalities. The use of good technology and good design everywhere regardless of where one was born.

For Hugh Herr, that is the reality where we must go, and for which we must fight.

El profesor Hugh Herr


The good will to change the world


Although it is paradoxical that he originally came from a community that rejects technological advances, in a way his life is still as simple as when he lived among the Amish.

From the beginning, Herr received the support of his family, which he considers decisive, as well as the education he received.

«They instilled in me two essential ideas: whatever you do, do it well and, above all, never lose heart, keep going, keep trying».

With 50 biomechatronics projects underway, Hugh Herr tries to integrate mechanical, electronic and biological elements so that we can live without paralysis, without blindness, without depression…

Determinedly ensures that creativity is emotional, that it comes from people who want to create things that do not exist. Creativity, according to Herr, requires faith, because for him it is nothing more than a spiritual process.



Hugh Herr, and the men of tomorrow


Thanks to the bionic prosthesis that Hugh Herr implanted, the dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who had lost a foot in the Boston Marathon bombing (2013), danced again.

«A hammer is a tool, but if you connect it to the nervous system through electrons that you have integrated into the tool, you can control and feel the hammer».

All these amazing scientific and technological advances represent a profound transition in the history of mankind:

«We will be able to sculpt our own bodies».

In Herr‘s own opinion, humans are going to be unrecognizable. That being said in a positive sense.

The issues Herr refers to represent the integration of the human body and biomechatronics.

Although this raises some controversy: the fact of using technology to improve ourselves as humans.

For Hugh Herr, all of this is based on better connections, expressions, and experiences:

«Not only will we be able to run marathons when we are 70 years old, the world will change completely».

Hugh Herr hospitalizado

In 1982, Hugh Herr was hospitalized in New Hampshire after losing his legs to frostbite. Photography AP / Jim Cole

Watch this interesting video about Hugh Herr’s own science

Hugh Herr Ted talk