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Boston Startup iWalk Lands Funding for Robotic Prosthetics

Investors have just thrown $20M at MIT Media Lab spinoff iWalk to fund their production of robotic prosthetic limbs.

1 min read
Boston Startup iWalk Lands Funding for Robotic Prosthetics

It's been a good couple of weeks for Boston-area robotics startups: two young companies have recently closed on significant venture rounds. One of them, iWalk, is commercializing prosthetic limb technology developed at MIT's Media Lab under Dr. Hugh Herr, himself a double amputee.

Herr, an avid rock climber, lost both legs to frosbite after a climbing accident at age 17. He immediately began building his own prosthetic limbs to enable him to get back into climbing. As he started his academic research career he dedicated his efforts to developing prosthetic limbs using robotics. Among his projects is a powered prosthetic ankle and foot called the PowerFoot One.

 

The PowerFoot One

 

I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Herr speak at an MIT robotics conference last November. At the time, I knew nothing of his background or research. Halfway in to the presentation as he was describing his research, he rolled up the cuffs of his slacks to reveal metal and electronics. Until that point I'd had no idea he was a double amputee; as he'd walked to the front of the room, his gait -- though not completely normal -- was so smooth, I'd never have guessed he was dealing with anything but a couple of stiff joints.

Herr's work, including an assistive device for patients with muscle control difficulty, has been commercialized by other companies in the past. But iWalk -- who has tested prototypes with veterans and other disabled patients -- appears to be focused entirely on the technology coming out of Herr's research, and the $20M Series-B investment is just what they need to start serious production.

Check out this short video of a National Geographic feature on Hugh Herr.

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How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
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By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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