Hotelier and first man to be fitted with 'bionic' arm
Born: 8 March, 1951, in Edinburgh.
Died: 11 January, 2008, in Wales, aged 57.
THE indefatigable Robert Campbell Aird delighted in describing himself as, "part man, part machine, all Scottish". He received the world's first complete bionic arm in 1998 after doctors diagnosed muscular cancer in 1982. His bionic arm was christened the Edinburgh Modular Arm System, and packed with microchips, position-control circuits, miniature motors, gears and pulleys. It rotated at the shoulder, bent at the elbow and twisted at the wrist, and could grip using artificial fingers.
He always wore a cap that contained an array of micro-sensors that picked up the electrical pulses his brain was sending to his absent arm muscles. These pulses then controlled each movement of his "new" arm. To enhance its authenticity the bionic arm was covered with artificial skin that made shaking his hand appear nothing out of the ordinary.
It was a remarkable piece of bio-engineering and surgery and the doctors – led by Dr David Gow at Edinburgh's Princess Margaret Rose Hospital – were always highly praised by Aird while his own fortitude and courage throughout the years never faltered.
Aird continued his active life and would not be detracted from his commercial career or his normal family life. He was involved for more than 20 years with hotels in Scotland, at first with the Scottish Highland Hotel Group, then developing new sites in Wales for Queens Moat Hotels.
He was particularly associated with the Angel Hotel in Cardiff, which he greatly upgraded.
When he came north he was again associated with Queens Moat in Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the latter he was the general manager of the Glasgow Moat House, the company's flagship hotel in Scotland.
At Edinburgh's Clermiston Moat House, Aird made radical improvements, adding the Pentland Suite and much improving the leisure centre and facilities. From his appointment in 1992 as general manager of the Capital Moat House and Leisure Club, Aird made the hotel a centre for conferences and weddings.
In 1997 he and his wife, Carolyn, bought the Moffat House Hotel in Dumfriesshire, which they ran with their usual commitment and enthusiasm. They had always wanted to own their own hotel and their seven years at Moffat gave Aird much joy.
As well as modernising the hotel he loved the area and the town. In 2003 he sold the hotel and returned to Wales. It proved only a partial retirement as he soon set up a company to renovate buildings.
But in Scotland this most resilient of men is fondly remembered for his work for various charities. Many of his escapades furthered the work of Dr Gow's research at Princess Margaret Rose and of a charity called Touch Bionics, which is closely associated with work for disabled people.
Aird wind-surfed – one-handed – across the Forth from Musselburgh to Burntisland and then across the English Channel – which took him two hours, 20 minutes. Aird also won 14 trophies for clay pigeon shooting and appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the "man with the most successful false arm". He was on Channel 4's All Sorts and on BBC's Superhuman programme, which detailed his medical and bionic history.
But Aird remained remarkably practical and down-to-earth. He was conscious of the enormous debt he owed to Bill Dykes at Strathclyde University and to Dr Gow at Princess Margaret Rose, and how their work allowed him to lead a full and busy life. Typically, he once commented: "For the first time in 16 years I recently reached above my head to pick a book off a shelf. It was a great moment for me." Such was his success that in 1999 he took lessons in flying.
Needless to say he was landed in some embarrassing situations. At the Gyle shopping centre in Edinburgh he once put both arms up to reach for an item on the top shelf and the bionic arm became stuck in the up position, causing some consternation. Aird dealt with the matter light-heartedly and everyone had a laugh. Another time he was sitting next to a young girl in an Edinburgh bus who was biting her nails. She asked him how he had lost his arm, receiving the answer: "I bit my nails."
Aird demonstrated a stern resourcefulness throughout his many years of treatment; for him everything was a challenge to be conquered. He considered nothing impossible. He did much to further the research that he hoped would benefit others and always brushed aside his charity work. "I do these charity acts largely to motivate disabled people to get off their backsides and do things, and to raise money for kids' charities," he once said.
His wife and their three children survive him.