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Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering

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November 9, 2013 - May 4, 2014

This interactive exhibition tells stories of engineers and users who design technologies to help themselves and others achieve their goals – from everyday routines to lifelong dreams. Visitors can explore and create a range of low tech and high tech tools that extend human abilities. Exhibits include a simulated downhill mono-ski course; a DJ station built out of a wheelchair and controlled by the wheels; a touch panel that translates music into vibrations; a hands-free computer mouse, controlled through slight movements of the head, that allows the guest to type messages, edit photos or watch videos; and a neuroprosthetic limb that can be controlled by a person’s thoughts. Visitors can even redesign themselves in a full body simulation and test body enhancement technologies that supersize their strength, showcasing the new horizon of engineering that was once the stuff of science fiction.

Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering showcases compelling stories from a unique field of engineering that not only helps people carry out their day-to-day routines, but also helps them realize lifelong dreams. The exhibition was created by the New York Hall of Science in partnership with Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the Quality of Life Technology Center with funding from the National Science Foundation. Free with NYSCI admission.

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“It is no longer a conversation about overcoming deficiency…It’s a conversation about potential.”
—Aimee Mullins, Paralympic champion, actor, model, inspirational speaker and double amputee


Human Plus: Real Lives + Real Engineering tells compelling stories of engineers and users who design and use technologies to help themselves and others achieve their goals—from everyday routines to lifelong dreams.Human Plus offers visitors a chance to explore and create a range of low tech and high tech tools that restore and extend human abilities. Throughout, visitors experience the creative, dynamic engineering process, which involves the user every step of the way.From customized wheelchairs for off-roading, to a vest that lets you feel music, to neuroprosthetic limbs controlled by a user’s thoughts, Human Plus showcases an innovative field of engineering that improves our lives every day.

Human Plus Exhibit Activities

Visitors enter the exhibition and are welcomed by three individuals whose compelling stories are told through videos and artifacts:

  • Erik Weihenmayer, an outdoor adventurer who is blind and uses a variety of tools to help him accomplish his goals. In 2001 Erik became the first blind climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Every two years Erik’s organization, No Barriers USA, hosts a summit that brings together scientists, inventors, and people with disabilities to collaboratively develop technologies that allow people to transcend barriers and achieve their own goals.
  • Elaine Houston, an engineer at the Quality of Life Technology Center. Elaine develops technologies to help others, like a power wheelchair with two dexterous robotic arms that allow people with severe disabilities more independence in their daily lives. Elaine herself is a user of assistive technology: a wheelchair and a prosthetic hand.
  • Carrie Krischke, a veteran who has worked closely with engineers from DEKA Research and Development in the development of a new prosthetic arm known as the “Luke” arm. Carrie, a busy mother of three, has participated in extensive testing to see how the arm, controlled by the motions of her foot, can meet the numerous demands of everyday life.Every Body Plays invites visitors to try out a mono-ski (a seat with a ski mounted below it) and use their body movements to ski down a simulated slalom course. The mono-ski is an example of adaptive sports technology—equipment engineered to give athletes options as unique as they are.
Other Human Plus features include:

Re-Designing You. What if you could be stronger, run faster, or jump higher—without any extra effort? In this full-body simulation, visitors test options for enhancing human abilities that sound futuristic but are being worked on in labs today—and will be on the market sooner than you might think.

RAMPS is a wheelchair DJ station, developed by a DIY team for an aspiring DJ with expert wheelchair skills. The interface is controlled by the movement of the wheelchair wheels. Visitors sit down, spin the wheels, and fade and scratch music tracks like a real DJ.

Ask, Imagine, Create is a display of some of the amazing technology that is being developed by today’s engineers. The display includes an inflatable robot arm designed to be a gentle helper, a prosthetic knee engineered for the rigors of snowboarding and other action sports, a prosthetic hand made of LEGOs®, and a device that helps people who are blind “see” by translating visual information into tactile signals felt by the tongue. A multimedia kiosk presents images, text, and videos that bring the artifacts and the process of engineering to life.

In Caring for a Pet visitors start with a challenge based on a real wheelchair user’s need for a tool to help her pick up her pet’s food bowl. With modular building materials visitors imagine, create, and test a device that makes this daily task easier.

Finding Your Way presents this engineering challenge: design a tool that can help a person with vision impairment avoid obstacles, like a mailbox or a pile of rocks, which are difficult to detect with a cane. Visitors imagine solutions and use simple building materials and custom pieces to create and test tools on an obstacle course.

More Than a Mouse. Engineers have created a variety of technologies that allow people to control a computer with a nod of the head, a tap of the foot, or the movement of their eyes. Here visitors can use Camera Mouse, which tracks the movement of a facial feature, like a nose, to control the on-screen pointer. Visitors can use the hands-free Camera Mouse to type messages, edit photos, or watch videos, which feature other technologies that broaden access to computers. Technologies like these mean that people of many different abilities can work together, share ideas, and spur innovation in more inclusive workplaces.

Consider This. Should disabled athletes with prosthetics be allowed to compete with athletes who are not disabled? Thought-provoking questions like this arise when we consider how technology can restore—and extend—human abilities. In this computer interactive, visitors can choose one of three questions. Then, based on their response to that initial question, they are presented with a series of other questions, all designed to encourage visitors to share their ideas with each other and reconsider their assumptions.

Attempts. Created by Bill Shannon, visual artist, performer, and choreographer, this piece features videos of Bill and internationally recognized dancer Dergin Tokmak, both of whom use crutches in their dance performances. Dergin performed a solo on crutches choreographed by Bill in the Cirque du Soleil production, Varekai. This piece explores how human creativity and imagination can surmount the limits tools might seem to impose. A pair of Bill’s crutches, which he adapted with “rocker bottoms” to meet his own dance and performance needs, are also on display.

Imagine the Possibilities. Outdoor adventurer Aron Ralston (the subject of the film 127 Hours) lost part of his arm in a canyon climbing accident. But, refusing to be limited by current technology, Aron and a team of engineers imagined the possibilities—a climbing prosthesis that was part climbing shoe, part climbing pick, and part claw—and Aron was back to the outdoor adventures he loves. In this exhibit, real users present visitors with design challenges, like designing a canoe for a man who has no arms. Visitors imagine the possibilities and draw their own designs or use stencils to help them. Visitors can post their designs for other visitors to see, to spark further innovations.

Feel the Music. Listening to your favorite music is a rich sensory experience, but what if you could really feel the music? A researcher from the Quality of Life Technology Center has come up with a vest that turns sounds into vibrations that can be felt by anyone, people with or without hearing impairments. In this exhibit, visitors experience an example of this approach. Visitors choose a genre of music. They can listen to it or turn down the volume and feel it through their fingertips—or listen and feel at the same time. Can you guess the type of music based on your sense of touch alone?

Design a Wheelchair. Engineers have designed wheelchairs for all types of users and activities, from intensely physical wheelchair rugby to everyday life in rural areas with rough terrain. Now visitors are challenged to do the same. In this computer interactive, a user presents a design challenge. Visitors choose types of frames, seats, front casters, back wheels, and accessories pictured on plastic blocks, arrange them in a design panel, and virtually test their new design. Feedback from the user helps the visitor understand the tradeoffs of design decisions and how to better meet a user’s needs.

One Comment

  • harvey goldstein

    Mar 8, 2014 - Reply

    Looking forward to bringing my students to this inspiring exhibit on 3/17/14.
    27 5th 6th and 7th graders
    Harvey Goldstein

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