Usually when an amputee is assigned powered prosthetic legs, their power has to be manually tuned by a prosthetics professional to enable the patient move around normally, with the prosthetic often requiring regular re-tunings to keep going. But this is set to improve tremendously if a computer program that researchers from two universities in the U.S. have developed is anything to go by.
Biomedical engineering scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University have come up with a computer software that automatically tunes powered prosthetic limbs, greatly enhancing their functional usefulness to amputees, as well as reducing the cost of using powered prosthetics.
According to the lead author of the medical paper on the latest study who is also a Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor at the two North Carolina Universities, Helen Huang, every patient who needs a powered prosthetic has to have it customized to their individual body size and strength, as well as other physical conditions. This kind of tuning must be done by a trained prosthetist.
Additionally, since human bodies are dynamic and their physical conditions often change by for instance gaining weight as a patient gets accustomed to their prosthetic leg, it means that the prosthetic limb requires re-tuning once in a while. This means that the patient has to regularly seek the services of a prosthetist, something which takes time and costs lots of money.
The computer program that the researchers designed is in the form of an algorithm that is incorporated into the software that operates a powered prosthetic leg to enable it to automatically tune the amount of power needed for its user to walk comfortably. In addition to easing the process of walking for amputees and other patients using prosthetic limbs and lowering the costs associated with the need to regularly see a prosthetist for re-tuning, the algorithm also allows the prosthesis to adapt to changing conditions. For instance, it would provide extra power to enable a patient using a prosthesis system to carry a heavy suitcase through the airport.
The new software system works by taking into account a patient’s angle of the prosthetic knee when walking to achieve a more "natural" joint angle without any more need for a visit to the prosthetist for re-tuning.
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