Why Vanderbilt Believes A ‘Smart’ Prosthetic Could Make Life Easier For People With Amputations | Nashville Public Radio

Why Vanderbilt Believes A ‘Smart’ Prosthetic Could Make Life Easier For People With Amputations

Jun 25, 2018

Imagine walking flat-footed everywhere you went, that's what traditional prosthetics can often feel like.

But engineers at Vanderbilt University say they've found a solution for amputees that complain about soreness and pain when walking on slopes or climbing stairs.

A new prosthetic ankle with hydraulics and sophisticated software can sense changes in pressure and weight to mimic what ankles usually do. It knows when to tip toes downward to absorb impact and when to pick toes up to prevent tripping.

The prosthetic is capable of working with anyone regardless of height or weight.

"By adding a computer, you can add a lot more adaptability," Harrison Bartlett, lead engineer, said. "As opposed to just designing everything in the physical structure of the device, this kind of has brains."

There are advanced prosthetics on the market right now, but they are bulky and they still don't solve the problem of walking on uneven ground.

"I have to go to my mailbox across the yard, and it can be pretty sore just from crossing the yard and back just because it's uneven," Michael Sasser, a tester for the team with a below the knee amputation, said. "I have to look every single step I take."

Sasser has been testing the new hydraulic ankle for the past six months on a treadmill and stairs in the lab.

The device is still being developed, and the team expects it will cost roughly $3,200 with insurance when it is ready for market in a few years.