Conor Walsh

2022 National Award Winner — Faculty

Conor Walsh

Current Position:
Paul A. Maeder Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Harvard University

Biomedical & Mechanical Engineering

Recognized for: Fundamentally reshaping our understanding of how humans interact with machines. A new class of lightweight, flexible and soft wearable robot technologies being developed in his lab—like the “soft exosuit”—have the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life of stroke patients, can assist individuals with upper extremity weaknesses in performing activities of daily living, and can also help prevent injuries to workers performing physically strenuous tasks. His research on wearable robot technologies has been translated into commercially-available therapeutic devices through several collaborative start-up endeavors.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Soft Wearable Robotics, Electro-mechanical Systems, Biomechanics, Sensors and Actuators, Soft Materials

Previous Positions: 
Paul A. Maeder Professor, Associate Faculty Member, Harvard University (current)
Faculty Director, Harvard Move Lab
Associate Faculty Member, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
Adjunct Associate Professor, Boston University Boston
Assistant in Engineering / Instructor in Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School
Visiting Lecturer in Engineering Design, Harvard University
Summer Entrepreneurial Fellow, Flagship Ventures Cambridge, MA, USA
PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A.I, B.A., Trinity College Dublin

Research Summary:

Mechanical engineer, Conor Walsh, PhD, is reshaping our understanding of how humans interact with machines. His research group has pioneered a new class of lightweight, flexible soft wearable robot technologies and helped launch this new and rapidly expanding field. His research combines aspects of human movement science (e.g., biomechanics and physical therapy) with sophisticated solutions in robot device design to improve the quality of life, mobility, and quality of care for people with physical disabilities. His technological innovations incorporate an impressive breadth of topics across robotics, ranging from functional apparel (textiles materials) to elegant designs for electro-mechanical systems and sensors, to software control algorithms. Each technological innovation from his lab has had a tremendous impact on the field.

He is widely recognized for his team’s development of the first autonomous robotic soft exosuit—a term coined by Walsh that has since become standard lexicon in the field—the first wearable robot technology that can reduce the energetics of both walking and running in healthy individuals. His research group also created the first medical soft exosuit designed to improve the gait of stroke survivors and the first powered soft exosuit that can reduce strain on the back for individuals performing physically strenuous tasks. The research accomplishments out of Walsh’s lab have also been translated into commercially-viable therapeutic and assistive devices in collaboration with leading medical device manufacturers and start-ups. His achievements in the field are helping mitigate disability and opening avenues for independence, societal participation, and a return-to-work, while reducing healthcare costs associated with injuries and impairments.

“This Blavatnik Award will highlight the significant potential for the field of wearable robotics at this exciting time as new technologies transition from research labs to clinics, industrial settings and the home.“

Key Publications:

  1. Kim et al., Reducing the metabolic cost of walking and running with a versatile, portable soft exosuit, Science, 2019.
  2. Awad et al., A soft robotic exosuit improves walking in patients after stroke, Science Translational Medicine, 2017.
  3. Polygerinos, Z. Wang, K.C. Galloway, R.J. Wood, C.J. Walsh, Soft Robotic Glove for Combined Assistance and at-Home Rehabilitation, Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Special Issue on Wearable Robotics, 2015.
  4. Holland, E. Park, P. Polygerinos, G. Bennett, C. Walsh, The Soft Robotic Toolkit: Shared Resources for Research and Design, Soft Robotics, 2014.

Other Honors:

2022 Cullen Education and Research Fund (CERF) Medical Engineering Prize for ALS
2019 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
2019 American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow
2018 IEEE ICRA Best Paper Award in Medical Robotics
2017 Early Academic Career Award in Robotics and Automation from the IEEE RAS
2016 Rolex Award for Enterprise
2016 Boston Business Journal 40 Under 40
2015 Best Paper Award, International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics
2015 MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35 Award
2014 Robotics Business Review Next Generation Game Changer Award

In the Media:

RolexWalking With Robots

NSF - Engineering soft robots for paradigm shift in rehabilitation - Science Nation

Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute Blog Post - Students and Teachers Take on Robots in India.

Harvard SEAS News - Conor Walsh Inducted into American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering

Harvard SEAS NewsNational Biomechanics Day at SEAS: Harvard Biodesign Lab hosts high school outreach program

Silicon Republic - Soft robotics needs the same breakthrough rigid robots had in the 1980s

Bill Gates Blog after visit to Harvard - Bots, britches, and bees. A Harvard robotics lab challenges popular images of robots.

Bill Gates Meet bots [video]

Advanced Textiles Source - Textile-based robots

Harvard Gazette - From federal support, groundbreaking research

Harvard Gazette - Startup points toward minimally invasive heart repair

Engadget - Harvard researchers make better, smarter walking aids

Boston University Today - Move Over Ironman. A soft, wearable robot could help people walk farther and faster after a stroke

The Scientist - Next-Generation Exoskeletons Help Patients Move