US Army Awards $1.4 Million Grant to Infotonics Technology Center and Clarkson University

In July, the U.S. Army awarded a $1.4 million grant to Clarkson
University and Infotonics Technology Center for the development of a lower
extremity prosthesis that uses advanced sensor technology to behave similarly
to a natural lower limb.

  Kelly Lee
  Kelly Lee

“We are trying to improve the control and functionality of lower
limb prosthetics,” Kelly Lee, PhD, senior scientist and program manager at
Infotonics Technology Center told O&P Business News.
“There has been very little work in this area.”

Lee explained that this project is in collaboration with Clarkson
University, which will receive approximately $400,000 of the grant money. The
majority of the funding will be used by Infotonics, which has a large facility
that specializes in the production of micro-electro mechanical systems (MEMS)

According to Lee, the control and function of an electrically powered
lower limb prosthesis can be improved by using the electrical signals from the
remaining available muscles. These small electrical signal scan be detected on
the surface of the skin and are known as “surface electromyogram

“As we add additonal sensors to the leg, we gather more
information,” Lee said. “We hope to eliminate falls, for example, by
using a person’s own muscles. Even though they may not have all the
muscles in the residual limb, we’ll use what we can.”

Once the sensors are built, Infotonics will hand them over to Clarkson
University, who will develop and produce a better control system for lower
extremity prostheses.

Surface EMG upper extremity prostheses have been developed and are less
difficult than lower extremity prostheses, according to Lee. This can be
attributed to the higher load-bearing pressures and disturbances associated
with the lower extremity. These disturbances affect how the sensors react when
the amputee moves. Additionally, increased sweat, compared to the upper
extremity, builds up more quickly in the socket of the lower extremity and
could potentially disrupt the connection of the sensors to the skin, according
to Lee.

Lee and Clarkson University face a number of challenges as they complete
their research and development studies before transitioning the technology into
the commericalization phase.

“I think there are a host of challenges,” Lee said. “I
think it comes down to the quality of the devices we are working with. Size,
weight and power requirements are always an issue and ultimately cost becomes a
factor as well. We have to keep the cost of these electronics down as much as
we can. Those are issues that are way down the line, but they are something we
must be aware of as we begin to work on development.”

Despite the current and future challenges, Lee is thrilled to be a part
of a project that could potentially help wounded soldiers.

“This is for the Army. A lot of soldiers with lower limb injuries
want to get back in action,” Lee said. “They are healthy and active,
so it is a good population to work with. And we are very anxious to help them
out.” — by Anthony Calabro

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