DIY Bionic Rock Climbing Hand (c.o. MIT’s Hugh Herr)

Here in Boulder, we actually know who Hugh Herr is: the climber who lost his legs to frostbite on Mt. Washington, designed his own climbing prostheses, and used bionic feet to send the world’s hardest thin cracks. Herr now runs a biomechatronics group at MIT’s famed Media Lab. I talked with Herr for a book I wrote and, in addition to working on balance mechanics for “real” prostheses, Herr was deep into the creation of what he called a “spider suit” — basically, the elastic-like suit holds your arms and fingers in the flexed position, augmenting your pulling strength. With elastic help, climbers will appreciate the extra pep in their pull. Or…they would if the thing actually existed commercially. Until then, I offer this (moderately harebrained) prototype, which my kids and I actually product tested one afternoon up at Flag.

You’ll notice the rubber bands are meant to increase the strength of finger flexion. Now, like many Boulder-area dads, I have exactly one circuit at Flagstaff that I have so incredibly dialed that I can make it appear to onlookers as if I am an actual climber and not some middle-aged dude clinging desperately to his youth. And on this circuit that I know so well, the DIY hand…actually worked! I could feel it pulling with me and I was less pumped than usual after a couple laps on the Upper Y Traverse.

Note: I also wore this hand during a first-to-worst performance on ABC’s Wipeout “Hotties vs. Nerds” edition. My wife signed me up for the show. She told me that I was cast as a hottie.

Note II: I imagine this hand would also be useful when holding a light saber or a pint of beer at Upslope.


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