Augmented Human May Compete in Beijing Olympics

Last year South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius blew people's minds when he came in second in a 400-meter footrace in Rome...without feet. Pistorius is missing the lower part of both his legs, and ran on two carbon-fiber "Cheetah" leg prostheses. A lawsuit followed (of course), and Pistorius was banned from international racing. But Pistorius appealed, enlisting the help of human augmentation guru Hugh Herr of MIT to dissect the argument that his Cheetah's gave him an unfair advantage in the race. Last week the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the appeal giving Pistorius the right to compete in this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

It's a landmark decision, and as Herr says below it's the first step toward recognizing that technology is allowing people with disabilities to become world-class athletes. Herr's argument is a bit technical but fascinating and worth a read through in this interview if you've got the time. If not, here's the soundbite:

TR: What are the broader implications of the CAS ruling?

HH: Oscar will be given the opportunity to qualify for IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations)-sanctioned events. But broadly, it will be progress in the overall initiative to fully integrate people with disabilities in society. Some people in the world witness an extraordinary athlete that has artificial legs or arms . . . and they immediately think that cannot be so—disabled people cannot be this good at something. It never occurs to some people that Oscar may be a remarkable athlete. They think he has to be cheating.

There is so much to learn about how the human body works and, in addition, how the body is affected by a wearable device, like a shoe or prosthesis. The day that there is a prosthesis that outperforms an intact limb using any single metric—whether it is to jump high or to manipulate something—will indeed be a very exciting day.

Using awesome science to fight discrimination and wrong-headed public perceptions of what it means to be 'disabled' — nicely done, Dr. Herr.

Source: Technology Review

Photo: Ossur.com via playthegame.com