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Posts Tagged ‘Neri Oxman

Dawn of the bionic man: replaceable body members

Looking deeply inside nature, through the magnifying glass of science, designers extract principles, processes and materials that are forming the very basis of design methodology.

From synthetic constructs that resemble biological materials, to computational methods that emulate neural processes, nature is driving design.

Design is also driving nature. In realms of genetics, regenerative medicine and synthetic biology, designers are growing novel technologies, not foreseen or anticipated by nature.

00:52 Bionics explores the interplay between biology and design. As you can see, my legs are bionic.

Today, I will tell human stories of bionic integration; how electromechanics attached to the body, and implanted inside the body are beginning to bridge the gap between disability and ability, between human limitation and human potential.

Patsy Z shared this link TED

“We’re beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger, faster, and more efficient.”

Hugh Herr is building the next generation of robotic prosthetics.|By Hugh Herr
Bionics has defined my physicality. In 1982, both of my legs were amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite, incurred during a mountain-climbing accident. At that time, I didn’t view my body as broken.
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.
I began by developing specialized limbs that allowed me to return to the vertical world of rock and ice climbing. I quickly realized that the artificial part of my body is malleable; able to take on any form, any function — a blank slate for which to create, perhaps, structures that could extend beyond biological capability. I made my height adjustable. I could be as short as five feet or as tall as I’d like.

when I was feeling bad about myself, insecure, I would jack my height up. But when I was feeling confident and suave, I would knock my height down a notch, just to give the competition a chance.

Narrow-edged feet allowed me to climb steep rock fissures, where the human foot cannot penetrate, and spiked feet enabled me to climb vertical ice walls, without ever experiencing muscle leg fatigue.

Through technological innovation, I returned to my sport, stronger and better. Technology had eliminated my disability, and allowed me a new climbing prowess. As a young man, I imagined a future world where technology so advanced could rid the world of disability, a world in which neural implants would allow the visually impaired to see. A world in which the paralyzed could walk, via body exoskeletons.

because of deficiencies in technology, disability is rampant in the world. This gentleman is missing three limbs. As a testimony to current technology, he is out of the wheelchair, but we need to do a better job in bionics, to allow, one day, full rehabilitation for a person with this level of injury.

At the MIT Media Lab, we’ve established the Center for Extreme Bionics. The mission of the center is to put forth fundamental science and technological capability that will allow the biomechatronic and regenerative repair of humans, across a broad range of brain and body disabilities.

Today, I’m going to tell you how my legs function, how they work, as a case in point for this center. Now, I made sure to shave my legs last night, because I knew I’d be showing them off.

Bionics entails the engineering of extreme interfaces. There’s three extreme interfaces in my bionic limbs: mechanical, how my limbs are attached to my biological body; dynamic, how they move like flesh and bone; and electrical, how they communicate with my nervous system.

I’ll begin with mechanical interface. In the area of design, we still do not understand how to attach devices to the body mechanically. It’s extraordinary to me that in this day and age, one of the most mature, oldest technologies in the human timeline, the shoe, still gives us blisters.

How can this be? We have no idea how to attach things to our bodies. This is the beautifully lyrical design work of Professor Neri Oxman at the MIT Media Lab, showing spatially varying exoskeletal impedances, shown here by color variation in this 3D-printed model. Imagine a future where clothing is stiff and soft where you need it, when you need it, for optimal support and flexibility, without ever causing discomfort.

 My bionic limbs are attached to my biological body via synthetic skins with stiffness variations, that mirror my underlying tissue biomechanics. To achieve that mirroring, we first developed a mathematical model of my biological limb. To that end, we used imaging tools such as MRI, to look inside my body, to figure out the geometries and locations of various tissues.

We also took robotic tools — here’s a 14-actuator circle that goes around the biological limb. The actuators come in, find the surface of the limb, measure its unloaded shape, and then they push on the tissues to measure tissue compliances at each anatomical point.

We combine these imaging and robotic data to build a mathematical description of my biological limb, shown on the left. You see a bunch of points, or nodes?

At each node, there’s a color that represents tissue compliance. We then do a mathematical transformation to the design of the synthetic skin, shown on the right. And we’ve discovered optimality is: where the body is stiff, the synthetic skin should be soft, where the body is soft, the synthetic skin is stiff, and this mirroring occurs across all tissue compliances.

With this framework, we’ve produced bionic limbs that are the most comfortable limbs I’ve ever worn. Clearly, in the future, our clothing, our shoes, our braces, our prostheses, will no longer be designed and manufactured using artisan strategies, but rather, data-driven quantitative frameworks. In that future, our shoes will no longer give us blisters.

We’re also embedding sensing and smart materials into the synthetic skins. This is a material developed by SRI International, California. Under electrostatic effect, it changes stiffness. So under zero voltage, the material is compliant, it’s floppy like paper. Then the button’s pushed, a voltage is applied, and it becomes stiff as a board.

07:29 (Tapping sounds)

We embed this material into the synthetic skin that attaches my bionic limb to my biological body. When I walk here, it’s no voltage. My interface is soft and compliant. The button’s pushed, voltage is applied, and it stiffens, offering me a greater maneuverability over the bionic limb.

We’re also building exoskeletons. This exoskeleton becomes stiff and soft in just the right areas of the running cycle, to protect the biological joints from high impacts and degradation. In the future, we’ll all be wearing exoskeletons in common activities, such as running.

Next, dynamic interface. How do my bionic limbs move like flesh and bone? At my MIT lab, we study how humans with normal physiologies stand, walk and run. What are the muscles doing, and how are they controlled by the spinal cord? This basic science motivates what we build.

We’re building bionic ankles, knees and hips. We’re building body parts from the ground up. The bionic limbs that I’m wearing are called BiOMs. They’ve been fitted to nearly 1,000 patients, 400 of which have been wounded U.S. soldiers.

How does it work?

At heel strike, under computer control, the system controls stiffness, to attenuate the shock of the limb hitting the ground. Then at mid-stance, the bionic limb outputs high torques and powers to lift the person into the walking stride, comparable to how muscles work in the calf region.

This bionic propulsion is very important clinically to patients. So on the left, you see the bionic device worn by a lady, on the right, a passive device worn by the same lady, that fails to emulate normal muscle function, enabling her to do something everyone should be able to do: go up and down their steps at home.

Bionics also allows for extraordinary athletic feats. Here’s a gentleman running up a rocky pathway. This is Steve Martin — not the comedian — who lost his legs in a bomb blast in Afghanistan.

We’re also building exoskeletal structures using these same principles, that wrap around the biological limb. This gentleman does not have any leg condition, any disability. He has a normal physiology, so these exoskeletons are applying muscle-like torques and powers, so that his own muscles need not apply those torques and powers.

This is the first exoskeleton in history that actually augments human walking. It significantly reduces metabolic cost. It’s so profound in its augmentation, that when a normal, healthy person wears the device for 40 minutes and then takes it off, their own biological legs feel ridiculously heavy and awkward. We’re beginning the age in which machines attached to our bodies will make us stronger and faster and more efficient.

Moving on to electrical interface: How do my bionic limbs communicate with my nervous system? Across my residual limb are electrodes that measure the electrical pulse of my muscles. That’s communicated to the bionic limb, so when I think about moving my phantom limb, the robot tracks those movement desires. This diagram shows fundamentally how the bionic limb is controlled.

we model the missing biological limb, and we’ve discovered what reflexes occurred, how the reflexes of the spinal cord are controlling the muscles. And that capability is embedded in the chips of the bionic limb.

What we’ve done, then, is we modulate the sensitivity of the reflex, the modeled spinal reflex, with the neural signal, so when I relax my muscles in my residual limb, I get very little torque and power, but the more I fire my muscles, the more torque I get, and I can even run. And that was the first demonstration of a running gait under neural command. Feels great.

We want to go a step further. We want to actually close the loop between the human and the bionic external limb. We’re doing experiments where we’re growing nerves, transected nerves, through channels, or micro-channel arrays.

On the other side of the channel, the nerve then attaches to cells, skin cells and muscle cells. In the motor channels, we can sense how the person wishes to move. That can be sent out wirelessly to the bionic limb, then [sensory information] on the bionic limb can be converted to stimulations in adjacent channels, sensory channels.

So when this is fully developed and for human use, persons like myself will not only have synthetic limbs that move like flesh and bone, but actually feel like flesh and bone.

This video shows Lisa Mallette, shortly after being fitted with two bionic limbs. Indeed, bionics is making a profound difference in people’s lives.

12:33 (Video) Lisa Mallette: Oh my God. LM: Oh my God, I can’t believe it!

12:43 LM: It’s just like I’ve got a real leg!

12:48 Woman: Now, don’t start running.

12:49 Man: Now turn around, and do the same thing walking up, but get on your heel to toe, like you would normally just walk on level ground. Try to walk right up the hill.

13:00 LM: Oh my God.

13:03 Man: Is it pushing you up?

13:04 LM: Yes! I’m not even — I can’t even describe it.

13:09 Man: It’s pushing you right up.

13:11 Hugh Herr: Next week I’m visiting the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and I’m going to try to convince CMS to grant appropriate code language and pricing, so this technology can be made available to the patients that need it.  

13:38 It’s not well appreciated, but over half of the world’s population suffers from some form of cognitive, emotional, sensory or motor condition, and because of poor technology, too often, conditions result in disability and a poorer quality of life.

Basic levels of physiological function should be a part of our human rights. 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.

I’d like to finish up with one more story, a beautiful story. The story of Adrianne Haslet-Davis. Adrianne lost her left leg in the Boston terrorist attack. I met Adrianne when this photo was taken, at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Adrianne is a dancer, a ballroom dancer.

Adrianne breathes and lives dance. It is her expression. It is her art form. Naturally, when she lost her limb in the Boston terrorist attack, she wanted to return to the dance floor.

After meeting her and driving home in my car, I thought, I’m an MIT professor. I have resources. Let’s build her a bionic limb, to enable her to go back to her life of dance. I brought in MIT scientists with expertise in prosthetics, robotics, machine learning and biomechanics, and over a 200-day research period, we studied dance.

We brought in dancers with biological limbs, and we studied how they move, what forces they apply on the dance floor, and we took those data, and we put forth fundamental principles of dance, reflexive dance capability, and we embedded that intelligence into the bionic limb. Bionics is not only about making people stronger and faster. Our expression, our humanity can be embedded into electromechanics.

It was 3.5 seconds between the bomb blasts in the Boston terrorist attack. In 3.5 seconds, the criminals and cowards took Adrianne off the dance floor. In 200 days, we put her back. We will not be intimidated, brought down, diminished, conquered or stopped by acts of violence.

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce Adrianne Haslet-Davis, her first performance since the attack. She’s dancing with Christian Lightner.

17:04 (Music: “Ring My Bell” performed by Enrique Iglesias)

18:21 Ladies and gentlemen, members of the research team: Elliott Rouse and Nathan Villagaray-Carski.

Intersection of technology and biology: Design is king

Designer and architect Neri Oxman is leading the search for ways in which digital fabrication technologies can interact with the biological world.

Two twin domes, two radically opposed design cultures.

One is made of thousands of steel parts, the other of a single silk thread.

One is synthetic, the other organic.

One is imposed on the environment, the other creates it.

One is designed for nature (for people?), the other is designed by nature.

Michelangelo said that when he looked at raw marble, he saw a figure struggling to be free. The chisel was Michelangelo’s only tool. But living things are not chiseled. They grow.

And in our smallest units of life, our cells, we carry all the information that’s required for every other cell to function and to replicate.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

01:05 Tools also have consequences. At least since the Industrial Revolution, the world of design has been dominated by the rigors of manufacturing and mass production. Assembly lines have dictated a world made of parts, framing the imagination of designers and architects who have been trained to think about their objects as assemblies of discrete parts with distinct functions.

But you don’t find homogenous material assemblies in nature.

Take human skin, for example. Our facial skins are thin with large pores. Our back skins are thicker, with small pores. One acts mainly as filter, the other mainly as barrier, and yet it’s the same skin: no parts, no assemblies.

It’s a system that gradually varies its functionality by varying elasticity. So here this is a split screen to represent my split world view, the split personality of every designer and architect operating today between the chisel and the gene, between machine and organism, between assembly and growth, between Henry Ford and Charles Darwin.

These two worldviews, my left brain and right brain, analysis and synthesis, will play out on the two screens behind me. My work, at its simplest level, is about uniting these two worldviews, moving away from assembly and closer into growth.

 You’re probably asking yourselves: Why now? Why was this not possible 10 or even five years ago?

We live in a very special time in history, a rare time, a time when the confluence of 4 fields is giving designers access to tools we’ve never had access to before.

These fields are:

1.  computational design, allowing us to design complex forms with simple code;

2. additive manufacturing, letting us produce parts by adding material rather than carving it out;

3. materials engineering, which lets us design the behavior of materials in high resolution; and

4. synthetic biology, enabling us to design new biological functionality by editing DNA.

And at the intersection of these four fields, my team and I create. Please meet the minds and hands of my students.

We design objects and products and structures and tools across scales, from the large-scale, like this robotic arm with an 80-foot diameter reach with a vehicular base that will one day soon print entire buildings, to nano-scale graphics made entirely of genetically engineered microorganisms that glow in the dark.

Here we’ve reimagined the mashrabiya, an archetype of ancient Arabic architecture, and created a screen where every aperture is uniquely sized to shape the form of light and heat moving through it.

In our next project, we explore the possibility of creating a cape and skirt — this was for a Paris fashion show with Iris van Herpen like a second skin that are made of a single part, stiff at the contours, flexible around the waist.

Together with my long-term 3D printing collaborator Stratasys, we 3D-printed this cape and skirt with no seams between the cells, and I’ll show more objects like it.

This helmet combines stiff and soft materials in 20-micron resolution. This is the resolution of a human hair. It’s also the resolution of a CT scanner.

That designers have access to such high-resolution analytic and synthetic tools, enables to design products that fit not only the shape of our bodies, but also the physiological makeup of our tissues.

Next, we designed an acoustic chair, a chair that would be at once structural, comfortable and would also absorb sound.

Professor Carter, my collaborator, and I turned to nature for inspiration, and by designing this irregular surface pattern, it becomes sound-absorbent. We printed its surface out of 44 different properties, varying in rigidity, opacity and color, corresponding to pressure points on the human body. Its surface, as in nature, varies its functionality not by adding another material or another assembly, but by continuously and delicately varying material property.

But is nature ideal? Are there no parts in nature?

I wasn’t raised in a religious Jewish home, but when I was young, my grandmother used to tell me stories from the Hebrew Bible, and one of them stuck with me and came to define much of what I care about.

As she recounts: “On the third day of Creation, God commands the Earth to grow a fruit-bearing fruit tree.” For this first fruit tree, there was to be no differentiation between trunk, branches, leaves and fruit. The whole tree was a fruit.

Instead, the land grew trees that have bark and stems and flowers. The land created a world made of parts. I often ask myself, “What would design be like if objects were made of a single part? Would we return to a better state of creation?”

So we looked for that biblical material, that fruit-bearing fruit tree kind of material, and we found it.

The second-most abundant biopolymer on the planet is called chitin, and some 100 million tons of it are produced every year by organisms such as shrimps, crabs, scorpions and butterflies.

We thought if we could tune its properties, we could generate structures that are multifunctional out of a single part. So that’s what we did.

We called Legal Seafood  and we ordered a bunch of shrimp shells, we grinded them and we produced chitosan paste. By varying chemical concentrations, we were able to achieve a wide array of properties — from dark, stiff and opaque, to light, soft and transparent.

In order to print the structures in large scale, we built a robotically controlled extrusion system with multiple nozzles. The robot would vary material properties on the fly and create these 12-foot-long structures made of a single material, 100 percent recyclable.

When the parts are ready, they’re left to dry and find a form naturally upon contact with air.

So why are we still designing with plastics?

The air bubbles that were a by-product of the printing process were used to contain photosynthetic microorganisms that first appeared on our planet 3.5 billion year ago, as we learned yesterday.

Together with our collaborators at Harvard and MIT, we embedded bacteria that were genetically engineered to rapidly capture carbon from the atmosphere and convert it into sugar.

For the first time, we were able to generate structures that would seamlessly transition from beam to mesh, and if scaled even larger, to windows. A fruit-bearing fruit tree.

Working with an ancient material, one of the first life-forms on the planet, plenty of water and a little bit of synthetic biology, we were able to transform a structure made of shrimp shells into an architecture that behaves like a tree.

And here’s the best part: for objects designed to biodegrade, put them in the sea, and they will nourish marine life; place them in soil, and they will help grow a tree.

The setting for our next exploration using the same design principles was the solar system.

We looked for the possibility of creating life-sustaining clothing for interplanetary voyages. To do that, we needed to contain bacteria and be able to control their flow.

So like the periodic table, we came up with our own table of the elements: new lifeforms that were computationally grown, additively manufactured and biologically augmented.

I like to think of synthetic biology as liquid alchemy, only instead of transmuting precious metals, you’re synthesizing new biological functionality inside very small channels. It’s called microfluidics.

We 3D-printed our own channels in order to control the flow of these liquid bacterial cultures. In our first piece of clothing, we combined two microorganisms.

The first is cyanobacteria. It lives in our oceans and in freshwater ponds. And

 The second, E. coli, the bacterium that inhabits the human gut.

One converts light into sugar, the other consumes that sugar and produces biofuels useful for the built environment.

Now, these two microorganisms never interact in nature. In fact, they never met each other. They’ve been here, engineered for the first time, to have a relationship inside a piece of clothing.

Think of it as evolution Not by natural selection, but evolution by design.

In order to contain these relationships, we’ve created a single channel that resembles the digestive tract, that will help flow these bacteria and alter their function along the way.

We then started growing these channels on the human body, varying material properties according to the desired functionality.

Where we wanted more photosynthesis, we would design more transparent channels. This wearable digestive system, when it’s stretched end to end, spans 60 meters. This is half the length of a football field, and 10 times as long as our small intestines.

And here it is for the first time unveiled at TED — our first photosynthetic wearable, liquid channels glowing with life inside a wearable clothing.

Mary Shelley said, “We are unfashioned creatures, but only half made up.”

What if design could provide that other half? What if we could create structures that would augment living matter? What if we could create personal microbiomes that would scan our skins, repair damaged tissue and sustain our bodies?

Think of this as a form of edited biology. This entire collection, Wanderers, that was named after planets, was not to me really about fashion per se, but it provided an opportunity to speculate about the future of our race on our planet and beyond, to combine scientific insight with lots of mystery and to move away from the age of the machine to a new age of symbiosis between our bodies, the microorganisms that we inhabit, our products and even our buildings. I call this material ecology.

To do this, we always need to return back to nature.

By now, you know that a 3D printer prints material in layers. You also know that nature doesn’t. It grows. It adds with sophistication.

This silkworm cocoon, for example, creates a highly sophisticated architecture, a home inside which to metamorphisize. No additive manufacturing today gets even close to this level of sophistication. It does so by combining not two materials, but two proteins in different concentrations.

One acts as the structure, the other is the glue, or the matrix, holding those fibers together.

And this happens across scales. The silkworm first attaches itself to the environment — it creates a tensile structure — and it then starts spinning a compressive cocoon. Tension and compression, the two forces of life, manifested in a single material.

In order to better understand how this complex process works, we glued a tiny earth magnet to the head of a silkworm, to the spinneret. We placed it inside a box with magnetic sensors, and that allowed us to create this 3-dimensional point cloud and visualize the complex architecture of the silkworm cocoon.

However, when we placed the silkworm on a flat patch, not inside a box, we realized it would spin a flat cocoon and it would still healthily metamorphisize. So we started designing different environments, different scaffolds, and we discovered that the shape, the composition, the structure of the cocoon, was directly informed by the environment.

Silkworms are often boiled to death inside their cocoons, their silk unraveled and used in the textile industry. We realized that designing these templates allowed us to give shape to raw silk without boiling a single cocoon.

14:53 (Applause)

They would healthily metamorphisize, and we would be able to create these things.

So we scaled this process up to architectural scale. We had a robot spin the template out of silk, and we placed it on our site. We knew silkworms migrated toward darker and colder areas, so we used a sun path diagram to reveal the distribution of light and heat on our structure.

We then created holes, or apertures, that would lock in the rays of light and heat, distributing those silkworms on the structure.

We were ready to receive the caterpillars. We ordered 6,500 silkworms from an online silk farm. And after four weeks of feeding, they were ready to spin with us. We placed them carefully at the bottom rim of the scaffold, and as they spin they pupate, they mate, they lay eggs, and life begins all over again — just like us but much, much shorter.

Bucky Fuller said that tension is the great integrity, and he was right.

As they spin biological silk over robotically spun silk, they give this entire pavilion its integrity. And over two to three weeks, 6,500 silkworms spin 6,500 kilometers.

In a curious symmetry, this is also the length of the Silk Road. The moths, after they hatch, produce 1.5 million eggs. This could be used for 250 additional pavilions for the future.

So here they are, the two worldviews. One spins silk out of a robotic arm, the other fills in the gaps.

 If the final frontier of design is to breathe life into the products and the buildings around us, to form a two-material ecology, then designers must unite these two worldviews.

Which brings us back, of course, to the beginning. Here’s to a new age of design, a new age of creation, that takes us from a nature-inspired design to a design-inspired nature, and that demands of us for the first time that we mother nature.




December 2021

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