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 Walkers take artificial ankle in their stride

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Date posted: 21/03/2007

A study undertaken by two researchers at the University of Michigan in the United States, suggests that patients who have neuromuscular problems and spinal injuries are likely to greatly benefit from using robotic joints.

The study is based on using healthy volunteers with fully functional musculoskeletal systems, fitted with a power-enhancing mechanical ankle.

It took less than half an hour for all participants to adapt to using the ankle and walking normally. The powerful suggestions this opens up are that other types of artificial joint or even full-body exoskeletons would be adapted relatively quickly and easily, once attached to still-existing muscle and bone systems. This is powerful evidence towards using exoskeletal devices not just for rehabilitation and therapy, but to supplant and enhance ability where it is greatly needed ? muscular dystrophy for an example.

The robotic ankle was developed by Keith Gordon and Daniel Ferris, both researchers at the University of Michigan. It is made from carbon fibre and has a pneumatic artificial muscle positioned behind the calf so that it can flex the foot downwards.

"There are teams around the world working on more impressively engineered exoskeletons than this," Ferris said. "But very little time is being devoted to looking at the human side."

Ten healthy volunteers ? five female and five male ? walked with the ankle muscle deactivated for 10 minutes, before walking with it switched on for another 30 minutes. Video footage, information from the artificial muscle and the electrodes were used to monitor their performance.

"It seems that as long as you put the nervous system in control, it's not too difficult to adapt," he added.

Participants were also able to instantly readapt to using the ankle after a three-day break, suggesting that a person's nervous system remembers how to deal with the extra power.

See the full Story via external site: www.newscientisttech.com

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