New style of prosthetics are embedded with sensors that monitors the owner’s gait and provides warning of wear and tear.
Technology’s part in prosthetics has been evident in 2017, with the creation of the ‘third thumb’ by designers in New Zealand and smart limb that uses artificial intelligence to make movement more natural both being covered by Springwise. Now, the Navy is lending their expertise to the cause with the creation of their own smart prosthetic limbs.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is partnering with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Naval Research Laboratory and several universities to develop a smart artificial leg, coined the Monitoring OsseoIntegrated Prostheses (MOIP), which is equipped with special sensors to monitor walking gait, alert users to prosthetic wear and tear, and warn of potential infection risk.
Leg prosthetics most commonly fit amputees’ residual limbs via a socket that encloses the limb. Because the socket exerts pressure on the limb’s soft tissue, pain, chafing, sores, blisters, and infection can occur. Amputees often need to have their socket prosthetics adjusted regularly, which is inconvenient and costly, so many end up opting for wheelchairs. MOIP uses an alternative limb type that includes a titanium fixture surgically implanted into the thigh bone. Bone grows, or osseointegrates, at the connection point with the implant, leaving only a small metallic connector protruding from the remaining leg. An accompanying artificial limb then can be attached or detached at will.
The advantages include less pain, a fluid walking motion and a more stable, better-fitting limb, but because metal sticks out of the residual limb, infection is a constant risk. To address this issue, MOIP will focus on infection detection, eradication and prevention by developing both electrochemical sense-and-respond approaches and “smart” skin technologies. A prototype has been successfully trialled in laboratories, with a new and improved model set to go to clinical trial in early 2018. How could existing technology be integrated to further improve the life of prosthetics wearers?