Steve Jobs once said: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Engineers using great design to build intelligent prosthesis would probably agree.
Prosthesis—an artificial device that replaces a missing body part, extremity or limb—has been referenced throughout history dating back to Ancient Egypt. However, the last 20 years have been a period of rapid technological advances in lower limb prostheses. This has been due in part to the increased understanding of the biomechanics of locomotion combined with clinical experimentation and research.
Until now, the measurement of human locomotion and gait parameters on users of lower limb prostheses has been restricted to laboratory environments, limiting the way prosthesis users interact with the physical environment and the opportunity to reproduce normal human movement. As a result, this clinical research has limited clinicians in making better decisions regarding prosthetic prescription or modifications.
However, recent advances in design experimentation and research conducted outside the confines of a lab have broken through these limitations, leading to the improvement of the intelligent prosthesis.
College Park Industries has designed the first commercially available wireless prosthesis. The iPecs (Intelligent Prosthetic Endo-Skeletal Component System) measures forces and torsion where and how the user feels it and wirelessly transmits the information in real-time to a PC.
The wireless function of the iPecs will, for the first time, allow research to be conducted outside of the laboratory, letting subjects choose and explore various environments, while giving clinicians a broader understanding to the daily experiences of prosthesis users. The data collected will allow clinicians to directly measure the experiences of prosthesis users, providing further insight to performance requirements for prosthetic limbs.
The ultimate goal of lower limb prosthetics is to restore “normal” functional mobility. However, what looks normal to a clinical researcher may not feel normal to the prosthetic user and simply adjusting the prosthesis components to correct the abnormal mobility is not enough.
By collecting real-time data in real-life environments—going up stairs, walking up or down a hill, using a step ladder—iPecs reveals exactly where and how forces from the user’s daily activities are transferred to the foot. It monitors the position of the foot, toes, the direction of force, as well as twists and turns to help researchers improve the fit and performance of the prosthesis for the user.
By remaining free of static lab equipment, cameras, computers and other wired devices to gather data, the device is unobtrusive, and able to provide more meaningful data instantly, to both the user and the researcher.
Last month, iPecs was named the winner of the electronics category in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 2011 Create the Future design contest. The iPecs is currently available for gait lab researchers; a clinical version will be available in early 2012.
For more information about the CAD software used in the design of the iPecs, visit the Creo Resource Center