October 17, 2013
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
When I was younger, I fell off of the front steps at my high school. More accurately, I was pushed, though no ill will was meant by it. I would regularly jump off of the thing for fun, so no one thought we would get hurt doing it. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the fall and the majority of my weight fell upon my right foot, and the foot gave out, twisting itself at beyond a 90-degree angle. Nothing broke, somehow, but the tendons and muscles were both severely damaged and I had to be taken out of school. However, I was unable to see a doctor until the following day. Many x-rays and other examinations later, and I was told that most of the tendons connecting my foot to my leg had been torn and a great deal of the damage that had been done would never fully heal. I was given a support brace for my foot, some painkillers, and was sent on my way with a note that would keep me out of Physical Education class for the better part of two months. I did not lose my foot that day, though there have been many days since that I almost wish I had.
I was lucky, but there are many people out there who were not so fortunate. Thankfully, we have developed many prosthetic limbs that can help make up for the loss of a foot; however, none of them are any comparison to the real thing. Our feet are actually very complex, and their range of motion is integral to our ability to walk and maintain balance. While serviceable, prosthetic feet are just not always up to the task. In fact, half of all patients who have a prosthetic foot fall each and every year, as compared to a third of people who are normally viewed as having a risk of falling – namely those over 65 years of age according to a press release. However, there is hope. Recent breakthroughs in mechanical prosthetic design have greatly improved the stability of the bionic foot.
Researchers at Michigan Technological University have been working on a new bionic foot that comes close to achieving the same range of motion as a regular ankle. Mo Rastgaar, and assistant professor, and Evandro Ficanha, a PhD student, are attempting to create a microprocessor-controlled ankle and foot prosthesis that will allow amputees to achieve a similar level of mobility and personal freedom as everyone else. They have done this by focusing in on the movements and support of the ankle, and creating artificial legs with pressure-sensitive sensors that will detect how the user is walking and will adjust accordingly. The end result of this is a more natural gait that should greatly reduce the risk of falling and injury due to having an artificial limb.
This is a look at their invention in action.
And so we have taken another step closer to creating a fusion of man and machine, and a world where those poor souls who have had to suffer through the loss of a part of themselves will not have to suffer quite as much. I would say that is a good world to work towards.
Image Credit: Emil Groth / Michigan Technological University