Allocation of $3M Towards Advancing Natural Robotic Leg Control in Prosthetics

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The University of Michigan is pursuing a project aimed at providing a smoother experience for users of robotic prosthetic legs. Recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) renewed its support with a $3 million R01 grant. This funding will facilitate the implementation of an improved control program developed by researchers on a commercially available robotic prosthetic leg.

Common daily activities such as transitioning from sitting to standing, walking, and navigating stairs or inclines are seamless for the human body. However, these transitions pose challenges for robots, particularly robotic prosthetic legs, which lack a direct connection to the user's central nervous system, making synchronization with body movements difficult.

To address this issue, the research team, led by Gregg, is exploring indirect control of joint position, mimicking biomechanical impedance. This approach, based on a continuous modeling framework, establishes an equilibrium position, allowing gentle adjustments to pull the joint back into place if disturbed. The goal is to create a more flexible and less rigid experience for users.

The control programs are developed based on biomechanical measurements from individuals with two biological legs, aiming to replicate the natural motion that the hips and back have evolved for. Many users of passive prosthetic legs often experience discomfort and pain in the hips, back, and organic knee due to compensating for the dead weight of the prosthetic limb.

Initially, the control programs will be tested on a robotic leg created in-house by Gregg's team, featuring motors for both the ankle and knee. Subsequently, the team plans to assess the effectiveness of these algorithms on Ossür's Power Knee prosthetic leg. This evaluation includes biomechanical measurements of participants walking with the prosthetic legs, alongside collecting formal feedback to quantify improvements in comfort and reductions in pain.

The Power Knee, known for its springy, passive ankle with a smaller range of motion, is lighter than the lab leg and currently aids individuals in walking. The research team is optimistic about adapting their control model to enhance the existing Power Knee models developed by Ossür. This collaborative effort aims to make advancements that benefit individuals using prosthetic legs, focusing on improving comfort and reducing pain during mobility.





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