Recently, while researching the issue of generative design, I came across a short presentation on bionics by Bionics designer and MIT Professor Dr. Hugh Herr. The 8-minute talk was part of a keynote for Autodesk University 2015 on topics related to augmented cognition, generative design, additive manufacturing, etc. The things that people are able to do now with advanced CAD and other digital tools is remarkable. But when Dr. Herr took the stage to show a genuine, real-world example of human-robot collaboration, I was blown away by what I saw. When his talk was finished, I thought this was just the kind of thing that should be featured on TED. Sure enough, Dr. Herr had already spoken on the subject at TED in 2014. Watch the talk below or on Youtube.
Dr. Herr's journey began in 1982 when both of his legs were amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite he incurred during a mountain-climbing accident. Doctors thought he'd never climb again. Herr aimed to prove them wrong. "At that time, I didn't view my body as broken," he says. "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." Herr shared his own story to make a larger point:
"Every person should have the right to live life without disability if they so choose -- the right to live life without severe depression; the right to see a loved one, in the case of seeing-impaired; or the right to walk or to dance, in the case of limb paralysis or limb amputation. As a society, we can achieve these human rights, if we accept the proposition that humans are not disabled. A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation. Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability."
This is such a great example of the power of the visual to amplify the narrative. If we think of story as the struggle to overcome an obstacle, we can see how this kind of application of technology really lends itself to storytelling. The technology behind the solution and all the information, facts, and data are obviously important. Correct information & data are crucial. But people remember most the stories they hear…and see. Therefore, we have an obligation to make certain those stories are authentic, honest, and true. Dr. Herr’s story has all of that. It’s not about being slick or perfect on stage, it’s much more important to be real and to show and tell your story from the heart while at the same time supporting the narrative with a logical framework.
• Biomechatronics at MIT
• Dr. Hugh Herr's bio page at MIT