Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are developing a robotic leg prosthesis that they hope could recover a user’s balance after a trip or stumble.

Hartmut Geyer, PhD, assistant professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon, notes in a media release from the university that a control strategy devised by studying human reflexes and other neuromuscular control systems has shown promise in simulation and in laboratory testing, producing stable walking gaits over uneven terrain and better recovery from trips and shoves.

He and others on his research team will test and develop this technology over the next 3 years, as part of a $900,000 National Robotics Initiative study funded through the National Science Foundation. Volunteers with above-the-knee amputations will participate in the study.

“Powered prostheses can help compensate for missing leg muscles, but if amputees are afraid of falling down, they won’t use them,” Geyer explains in the release.

“Today’s prosthetics try to mimic natural leg motion, yet they can’t respond like a healthy human leg would to trips, stumbles, and pushes. Our work is motivated by the idea that if we understand how humans control their limbs, we can use those principles to control robotic limbs,” he adds.

Geyer states in the release that he estimates that more than a million Americans have had a leg amputation, and that number is expected to quadruple by 2050.

Also per the release, it is suggested that about half of the amputee population reports a fear of falling and that a large number of amputees note the inability to walk on uneven terrain limits their quality of life.

“Robotic prosthetics is an emerging field that provides an opportunity to address these problems with new prosthetic designs and control strategies,” Geyer shares.

[Source(s): Carnegie Mellon University, EurekAlert]