Feeds

Cyborg MIT prof touts iPhone-controlled power-jumping legs

Other bionic plugins offer 7' height, climbing claws

Intelligent flash storage arrays

A cyborg MIT professor has developed and tested innovative lithium-ion powered prosthetic feet which can thrust a wearer off the ground just as normal biological ones can - or be adjusted (using an iPhone app, of course) for greater power, perhaps allowing remarkable leaping and running performance.

Professor Hugh Herr is professor of "biomechatronics" at MIT, and has developed a whole range of different cybernetic feet - having lost both his own, and some of his lower legs, to frostbite during a climbing expedition in 1982.

"The fact that I'm missing lower limbs is an opportunity," he told Forbes magazine this week. "There are no disabled people, only disabled technology."

Herr's range of different plug-in feet offer a range of different abilities. There are extended ones which increase his height to more than 7 feet, clawed ones for climbing up icy cliffs, or carbon-fibre springs for running.

The pièce de résistance of Herr's foot locker, however, is the PowerFoot. Rather than merely being rigid or sprung like other cyberfeet, this features a li-ion powered actuator which pushes the user off from a step just as a living foot does with a normal stride. The foot also senses what's going on and makes other automatic adjustments, for instance pointing down when the wearer is going down stairs and flopping unpowered when the user sits and crosses it over the other leg.

PowerFoot prototype models can be adjusted for greater spring-heeledness using Bluetooth from a phone: the professor promises an iPhone app for this purpose in the near future.

According to Herr, the soon-to-be-released PowerFoot One is actually superior to a living human foot. Testers have told him that the limit on their performance is now tiredness in their intact leg, rather than in the cybernetic one.

There's no doubt that Herr feels that cyber body parts are actually superior in many cases to standard-issue ones.

"Disabled people today are the test pilots for technology that will someday be pervasive," he says. "Eliminating disability and blurring man and machine will be one of the great stories of this century."

The prof believes that one day there will have to be special disability-protection laws, not for the disabled as we know them today, but instead for people who refuse to get with the programme and have cybernetic enhancements like normal folk.

Herr also seems to imply that top-rank athletes may in future willingly modify themselves in order to compete against the world's record-holders in the Paralympics - while the ordinary fleshy Olympics, with their policy of forbidding any bodily enhancement deemed to boost performance, will dwindle into a sports backwater.

"When amputees participate in sports, they call it courageous," he says testily. "Once you become competitive, they call it cheating."

This kind of thing is, of course, the way the Doctor Who Cybermen got started.

The Forbes article will appear in print next month, or you can read it online now. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.