By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2014, Oklahoma Publishing Company
Jay Martin is unimposing in stature, humble in personality and grateful for the doors that life has opened for him as an Oklahoma innovator, inventor and entrepreneur.
So why do I see Marvel Entertainment’s Tony Stark as he walks into a conference room at i2E to discuss his role in creating innovative technologies?
It is because of the Iron Man suit.
Martin is a vital part of a team of innovators assembled by NASA to create exoskeletal robotic suits, akin to an “Iron Man” suit.
These ongoing projects have a futuristic goal: develop a robotic suit that provides enhanced strength and capabilities for users ranging from astronauts to special ops soldiers to people who have suffered nerve and spinal injuries, allowing them to walk again.
Martin was tasked with the challenge of merging proprietary prosthetic man/machine interface technology he developed as founder of Oklahoma City’s Martin Bionics Innovations into NASA’s exoskeleton robotics projects.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to spend so much time in Houston at the Johnson Space Center,” Martin said of the NASA project. “The level of sophistication of the NASA engineers I’m working with is phenomenal.”
Before he was invited into the NASA project, Martin established himself as a groundbreaking inventor of prosthetic technology that advanced the state of the industry, providing amputees with more comfort and mobility.
As a result, Martin Bionics was recognized as Oklahoma’s Innovator of the Year in 2008.
Martin’s work in engineering revolutionary prosthetics designs dates back to 2002, when Martin worked as a clinical prosthetist at Oklahoma City’s Scott Sabolich Prosthetics and Research Center. A Norman native, Martin applied for and was awarded his first research grant from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).
Martin Bionics was awarded an Oklahoma Applied Research Support grant from OCAST to support development of an advanced robotic prosthetic ankle. Since that first award, Martin’s research has received approximately $3 million in state and federal grants and contracts.
Martin Bionics grew in scope and number of employees when it was invited in 2006 to participate in a federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative called Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009.
“That was the largest endeavor to advance prosthetics in the history of the world,” he said. “It was a phenomenal program, and that’s what took us from a small fledgling company in a small office at Sabolich to moving to the PHF Research Park, and led to becoming the largest prosthetics R&D company in the nation.”
Working with scientists at John’s Hopkins University on the DARPA project, Martin Bionics helped create prosthetic technology with an end goal of enabling users with shoulder level amputation to accomplish unheard-of tasks like playing the guitar or piano (see photos at jay-martin.me).
Martin Bionics was sold to Orthocare Innovations in 2008, which freed Martin to pursue other entrepreneurial projects when he left the company 18 months later. Since then he has presented a TEDx Oklahoma City talk and taught a graduate level course on innovation and design at Oklahoma Christian University.
Today, Martin mentors other entrepreneurs, invests in innovative startup companies and pursues technology development in projects such as the Iron Man initiative. All with the same purpose.
“The goal since the beginning of my career has been to change the world through innovation,” he said. “Everything is geared toward advancing the human experience through innovation.”