Researchers develop blueprint for self-adjusting powered prostheses

Researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed software allowing powered prostheses to tune themselves automatically.

“When a patient gets a powered [prosthesis], it needs to be customized to account for each individual patient’s physical condition,” Helen Huang, PhD, lead author of the study and associate professor at North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a press release. “A patient’s physical condition may change … for example, they may gain weight. These changes mean the [prosthesis] needs to be re-tuned, and working with a prosthetist takes time and money.”

The new software works by taking into account the angle of the prosthetic knee while walking. An algorithm tracks the angle of the prosthetic joint and can adjust the amount of power the prosthesis receives in real time, adapting to changing conditions.

“For example, the algorithm could provide more power to a prosthesis when a patient carries a heavy suitcase through an airport,” Huang said. “In testing, we found that the computer – using the algorithm – performed better than prosthetists at achieving the proper joint angle. We are not yet able to replicate the prosthetist’s success in achieving those comfortable ‘trunk motions,’ but it is something we are working on.”

The algorithm can be incorporated into the software of any powered prosthesis, according to the release, making it easier for patients to walk while reducing prosthetist-related costs. The research is published in Annals of Biomedical Engineering.


Huang H. Ann Biomed Eng. 2015; PMID:26407703

Disclosure: The researchers report the research is supported by the National Science Foundation under grants 1361549, 1406750 and 1527202.

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