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Making Legs that Can See

The small, computer controlled actuator adjusts the ankle using cables that work much like the break cables on a bike. (Photo credit: Michigan Technological University.)
The small, computer controlled actuator adjusts the ankle using cables that work much like the break cables on a bike. (Photo credit: Michigan Technological University.)

Researchers at Michigan Technological University are working on a vision system for prosthetic legs. The system uses an inexpensive camera to get a better sense of the terrain, and an actuator that adjusts the ankle accordingly.

“The camera can identify the profile of the ground, while the computer knows where the next footstep will be, based on how the user is moving the leg,” says lead researcher and assistant mechanical engineering professor Mo Rastgaar. “Then the computer analyzes the information from the camera and applies the correct angle and stiffness to the ankle, just as you would with your biological foot and ankle.”

Cables similar to those used on a bike’s breaks are used to adjust the ankle, while the actuator is carried in a pocket or fanny pack.

“This new actuator system will be easy to remove, so you can use it or not, based on your needs,” Rastgaar says. “If the user is going to stay at home, it might be simpler to walk around the house with a passive prosthesis.”

The research is funded, in part, by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

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