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Now, Natural Looking, Energy Efficient Robotic Ankles for Amputees


An amputee wearing a conventional prosthetic receives a push at the ankle, but from passive springs that do little to propel the body. As a result, these people expend 20 to 30 percent more metabolic energy as compared to able-bodied folks.

By using the Active Ankle-Foot Prosthesis, an amputee can walk with 20 percent less metabolic energy than conventional prostheses. Meanwhile, at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus, Associate Professor Thomas Sugar and his team are working on another robotic ankle model.

They have developed a device named Sparky, for "spring ankle with regenerative kinetics." Sugar's device lacks sensors but has springs specifically adjusted to a person's weight. A motor adjusts the position of the springs so that they store and release the energy to propel the ankle forward. The device weighs just two poundscompared to a human ankle and shinbone, which weigh four or five pounds.

Sugar's prosthetic is part of a three-year project administered by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and could be commercialized by 2009, but he says that the biggest impediment is to provide enough battery power for day-to-day walking.

Small batteries, he says, need to be charged more frequently, while large batteries are too heavy.


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