Researchers at the University of Michigan and assistive technology company Humotech, Pittsburgh, are bringing an open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg to the research market. The goal of the collaboration is to speed the development of control software for robotic prosthetic legs.
“We developed the open-source leg to foster the study of control strategies for robotic prostheses—one of the most prominent barriers hindering their public impact,” said Elliott Rouse, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at U-M’s Robotics Institute.
“The open-source leg is now being used by over ten other research groups to develop control strategies on a common platform, but we noticed some research groups would rather not build it themselves. To maximize the benefit to the public, a product-like solution was needed.”
First released in 2019, the open-source leg’s free-to-copy design is intended to accelerate scientific advances by offering a unified platform to fragmented research efforts across the field of bionics. Now, for labs that need an off-the-shelf robotic prosthesis for research and development, Humotech will provide an assembled version of the open-source leg, including warranty service and technical support.
“We see many benefits to standardizing the hardware and software used by the research community,” said Josh Caputo, president and CEO of Humotech. “The fully contained and powerful open-source leg is a natural expansion of what we can do to support our mission to transform the way the world develops wearable robotics.
“By offering a preassembled version with professional support, we hope to improve access to this platform for studying the control of robotic prosthetic legs. We’re extremely excited to partner with the University of Michigan on this strategic initiative and together help accelerate research and innovation in the field.”
Humotech, originating from Carnegie Mellon University, develops tools for the advancement of wearable robotic control systems and other wearable devices. Using its own research community, Humotech will further build and support a development community around the open-source leg and seek to incorporate the leg into Humotech’s Caplex platform. Caplex is a hardware and software testbed that enables researchers to emulate the mechanics of wearable machines, including prostheses and exoskeletons.
In collaboration, Rouse’s lab and Humotech will also iterate on new versions of the open-source leg to meet the needs of prosthetic wearers and researchers.
The original prosthetic leg was designed to be simple, low cost, and high performance. Its modular design can act as a knee, ankle, or both, with an onboard power supply and control electronics that allow it to be tested anywhere. Rouse collaborated with Levi Hargrove, PhD, director of the Center for Bionic Medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, to develop this first model.
Rouse hopes Humotech’s partnership will expand the capabilities of other labs and enable them to conduct high-impact research.
“This collaboration furthers the mission of our open-source leg project,” Rouse said. “The translation of an open-source research prototype to a commercial product is rare for our field, but our partnership can continue to lower the barrier to research, speed technical advances, and in the end, positively impact lives.”
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by the University of Michigan.