Hugh Herr, Climber, Invents Award-Winning Foot-Ankle Prostheses

by Mick Ryan PowerFoot One When Hugh Herr was 17 he got severe frostbite in both legs in an accident on New Hampshire´s Mount Washington. He and his partner Jeff Batzer were lost for three days in a blizzard. Batzer didn´t make it and Herr had his legs amputated below the knee. His doctors told him that he would never climb again. Being a bit of a tinkerer in the machine shop he developed his own prosthetic legs which enabled him to climb harder than when he had his own natural legs eventually making the second free ascent of City Park a 5.13c (8a+) 120-ft thin crack at Index Town Walls, Washington that was first free climbed by Todd Skinner. His story was told by Alison Osius in her 1991 book, ´Second Ascent, The Story of Hugh Herr” Developing his own prosthetic legs, both rock and ice climbing versions, set Hugh Herr off on a career path that led to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he is now a professor and director of the Biomechatronics Group where he has developed PowerFoot One (, a completely self-contained robotic foot-ankle prostheses. PowerFoot One has battery-powered springs that propel the wearer forward and create a more natural gait. It has built-in microprocessors and environmental sensors that enable it to negotiate slopes, stairs and level ground. The USA´s Time magazine (website and award details) has honoured Herr and his PowerFoot One with an award for one of the best inventions of the year along with the iPhone and theBoeing 787 Dreamliner. The criteria being that the inventions will change people´s lives; and Hugh´s invention will make a huge difference to those who lose their feet in accidents or as Time magazine´s Lev Grossman says, “veterans from the war in Iraq.” You can watch a video about the selection procedure here