Tests on a new kind of bionic leg have recently started in Italy. The new devices are the result of the European project “Cyberlegs”, which combines artificial limbs with so-called wearable robots to enable amputees to walk with less effort and more naturally.
There are, in fact, two different kinds of technologies being developed and the whole project is coordinated by the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa.
“We try to solve the amputee’s problem by using what we call wearable robots, which may be either orthotic systems, which are motorized orthoses, or prostheses that are not passive, but have engines,” explains Nicola Vitiello, coordinator of the ‘Cyberlegs’ project.
“In the first case the prosthesis replaces the missing limb, restoring also its power capability: we explored the ability to connect the prosthesis to the central nervous system, non-invasively, with what we call wearable sensors. In the second case instead we use motorized orthoses, injecting energy in the remaining joints of the person, trying to make the user walk with less effort.”
The robotic system consists of an active artificial leg replacing the amputated limb. With smart shoes packed with sensors, it helps the amputee walk forward and back, climb stairs, and sit down without much effort or thought.
The other field of research combines a prosthesis with a wearable device, injecting energy into the limbs to help the amputee walk more naturally.
Because however advanced, a prosthesis can’t fully replace a leg. So the wearable device can compensate for its inefficiencies by energizing the amputee’s limbs.
Around 10 people have tested the new technology so far, and the results seem encouraging.