Many lower-limb prosthetic devices are designed to store and return energy to the body, but they don’t give the user control over how that energy gets stored or when it gets returned. A research team at the University of Calgary (UCalgary), Canada, is studying and developing smart prostheses that better control the energy return to allow people with lower-limb amputations greater mobility, particularly on uneven terrain.
“Generally, it takes [the prosthesis user] more energy to walk, and they also have less agility and coordination, so they experience problems with balancing that get worse on imperfect pavement…,” said Art Kuo, PhD, Canada research chair in neuromusculoskeletal biomechanics and a professor of kinesiology at UCalgary. “What we have been developing is a set of prosthetic devices that can store energy from the person wearing them that they would normally lose, and what we try to do is capture that energy and control it so that we can return it to the person in a useful way.”
As the faculty’s new Benno Nigg chair in biomechanics, longevity and aging, Kuo and his team are attempting to find ways to control that energy using a mechanical latch mechanism.
“The hard part is figuring how to return it to the person and when to do that,” said Kuo. “So we have a little computer on board that detects what the person is doing and tries to restore the energy to them in a way that isn’t too different from the way an able-bodied person uses their ankle.”
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by UCalgary.