US Navy Developing ‘Smart’ Prosthetic Limbs

The Office of Naval Research has revealed plan to partner with the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Naval Research Laboratory, and a number of universities to develop a new type of leg prostheses. Along with being more comfortable, these smart artificial limbs will help users prevent the threat of infection.

The Monitoring OsseoIntegrated Prosthesis (MOIP) project hinges upon a titanium fixture that is surgically implanted into the recipient’s femur. Bone is generated around the point where it’s implanted, so only the small connection point juts out.

artificial limb by navy
Dr. Jerome Lynch (right) discusses the outcomes of an explore research fellow Wentao Wang. (Image Credit: Joseph Xu/Senior Multimedia Content Producer, University of Michigan– College of Engineering).

An artificial limb can be connected or detached from this adapter at will. However, because of the manner in which metal protrudes from the limb, infections would not be uncommon. MOIP is being developed with this in mind, and provides means of watching on the circumstance.

A bio-compatible sensor array is embedded in the residual limb, which operates in conjunction with sensors that are built into the prosthetic. It keeps an eye on pH balance and body temperature, both of which can use early warning of an infection.

The sensing unit additionally tracks how well the bone is fusing with the fixture, and evaluates the efficiency of the prosthetic based upon the user’s gait. “One game-changing application of this technology would be as a tool to inform physicians when prostheses can be safely loaded after surgery, resulting in more precise determination of when patients are prepared for physical therapy after receiving a brand-new prosthetic,” stated Dr. Jerome Lynch, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan who is supervising the sensor array’s development, in a press release.

Some Progress

Conventional leg prostheses generally attach to the user’s residual limb using a socket accessory. This socket puts pressure on the soft tissue of the leg, which can be uneasy, and can cause sores and blisters as well as infections. Lots of users need to have the socket manually adjusted by a professional on a regular basis.

The self-monitoring MOIP resolves these problems, and should permit users to stroll more naturally because there’s less discomfort.

The team working on the project has already completed a prototype version of its sensor array, which proved to be successful in lab testing. It’s expected that an enhanced iteration of the device will be all set for clinical trials in 2018.

The US Navy is not the only group working on “smart” artificial limbs. Across the ocean, the CyberLegs Plus Plus project is a European Commission-funded experiment with a different sort of robotic limb, which could sense and cognitively respond to the wearer’s intended movements. The result being a limb that feels much more natural than an average prosthetic due to the robotic interface.

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