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A.B.L.E. Tech: Achieving Better Life Experiences for People with Injury, Disability and Aging Challenges Through 21st Century Technologies

06/06/2007 5:30 PM Kresge
John Hockenberry, Distinguished Fellow, MIT Media Lab;Host, The Takeaway; Hugh Herr, SM '93, Assoc. Prof, MIT Media Lab; Dean Kamen, Founder, DEKA Research

Description: Imagine a time when technology trumps injury and disease, and the very notion of disability begins to fade. These panelists suggest that we are at the dawn of such an era. John Hockenberry, who zips around the stage in his flashing light _equipped wheelchair, tells us that "vast, extraordinary and sometimes frightening physical change can instead of being feared actually be embraced and become an opportunity for people to take authorship of their own lives, using products and tools made by technology to make their life experiences better." He sees an aging and longer"lived demographic necessitating new and better devices, and the likelihood that such tools may find broader use among a larger, able"bodied population. Hugh Herr lost both legs below the knee to frostbite while hiking Mt. Washington in 1982. But his drive to climb compelled him to invent replacements that from his perspective far surpass the clumsy, skin"colored prostheses generally available. Herr demonstrates his biomechanical inventions, which provide not only a natural gait but additional energy to each stride _ like an airport walkway, he says. Herr believes with some tweaking, his device could help stroke victims walk with better balance, and that the advantage conferred by such a device could make it desirable beyond the disabled population _ think physical improvement by way of robotics, rather than steroids. As technology once intended exclusively for the disabled finds wider applications, there will be a transformation, says Herr, which "creates a world where there is not disability, but in fact augmentation. It makes it sexy. It's the muscle car." Dean Kamen performs astonishing pirouettes in his iBOT, a device inspired by his desire to give wheelchair users the same view of the world taken for granted by those able to stand. This machine can give physically challenged people the independence to climb stairs, take a walk in the woods or at the beach. Kamen also presents, through video clips, breathtaking developments in a robotic artificial arm _ the result of U.S. government efforts to fast track (in two years!) a state"of"the"art prosthesis for victims of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nerve and muscle"sensing electrodes enable this arm to pick up small blocks, pieces of paper, and rotate at the wrist. Without government funding, this device would not have been developed, Kamen notes, due to market limitations. Kamen himself subsidizes development of other high tech tools for disabled people (his more lucrative day job involves making insulin pumps and stents). While he'd like these technologies to become "a killer app among people who can pay," Kamen says, "We will continue to fund them with the naive notion that it's the right thing to do, and hope that we will meet our original objective of making the world a better place."

About the Speaker(s): John Hockenberry is a four"time Peabody Award winner, four"time Emmy award winner, and has won an Edward R. Murrow award and a Casey Medal. Hockenberry served as a correspondent for Dateline NBC after a fifteen"year career in broadcast news at both National Public Radio and ABC News.

He is the author of the novel A River Out Of Eden, and Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs and Declarations of Independence, a memoir of life with a disability. In 1996, Hockenberry performed a successful limited run of Spokeman, a one"man, off"Broadway show he wrote.
Hockenberry is also an internationally known advocate and spokesman for the rights of the disabled. He was one of the founding inductees to the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame in 2005. He wrote and appeared in a cover story for Parade Magazine on the 15 year anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and is a contributing editor for WIRED Magazine and METROPOLIS.

Host(s): Alumni Association, MIT Enterprise Forum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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