Utah Bionic Leg: The most advanced AI-powered prosthetics ‘ever created’

The users can effectively manipulate the prosthetics exactly like they would with an intact limb.
Baba Tamim
Utah Bionic Leg.
Utah Bionic Leg.

University of Utah  

University of Utah researchers have developed the most advanced AI-powered prosthetics "ever created," prompting Ottobock, the world's largest prosthetic manufacturer, to collaborate with them to launch the project globally.

"Our @LabBionic [Bionic engineering lab] has developed the "Utah Bionic Leg," the most advanced bionic leg ever created. Now, we've forged a partnership with the worldwide leader in the prosthetics industry, @OttobockUK, to bring it to individuals with lower-limb amputations," the university's official account tweeted on Friday.

"The goal of the partnership is to 'refine ability' by combining advanced technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, neural engineering with manufacturing, health services and patient care," said Tommaso Lenzi, associate professor at the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Bionic Engineering Lab.

"We want to make sure the cutting-edge technologies go from the lab to the market as quickly as possible. This partnership will enable us to do exactly that."

Utah Bionic Leg: The most advanced AI-powered prosthetics ‘ever created’
Utah Bionic Leg in action.

The project has been under development for several years representing both students and academics from the university.

How does it work?

The Utah Bionic Leg combines motors, processors, and cutting-edge artificial antelligence (AI), giving amputees the strength and mobility to perform actions that the average person might take for granted.

"It is a superior prosthetic knee, incomparable to any currently available product," said Hans Georg Näder, owner and chairman of the board of directors at Ottobock, on Wednesday, during the collaborative launch.

Amputees rely on their intact legs and upper body to compensate for the lack of support provided by their prescribed prosthesis. With the Utah Bionic Leg, this is less of a problem because the prosthesis' increased power facilitates mobility.

"If you walk faster, it will walk faster for you, and give you more energy. Or, it adapts automatically to the height of the steps in a staircase. Or, it can help you cross over obstacles," said Lenzi.

The technology works like muscle cells

Its claimed superior technological level distinguishes the Utah Bionic Leg from other recommended prostheses.

The technology that makes the bionic leg "fundamentally works like the muscle cells in the nervous system of the leg," said Lenzi.

To determine the leg's position in space, custom-designed force and torque sensors, as well as accelerometers and gyroscopes, are used. According to the university, these sensors are linked to a computer processor, which translates sensor inputs into movements of the prosthetic joints.

"Based on that real-time data," the leg supplies power to the motors in the joints, allowing them to assist in walking, standing up, walking up and down stairs, or maneuvering around obstacles.

The prosthetic leg's 'smart transmission system' connects the electrical motors to the robotic joints. This optimized system adapts the joint behaviors for each activity, "like shifting gears on a bike."

Users can effectively manipulate the prosthetic for extended periods of time, exactly like they would with an intact limb, thanks to the robotic knee, ankle, and toe joints.

Utah Bionic Leg: The most advanced AI-powered prosthetics ‘ever created’
Alec McMorris, an amputee football caoch adjusting the Bionic Leg at the University of Utah.

"It's just so different. It's so much more technical and allows you to do so much more, and it takes so much less energy. That's like the real big benefit for me," said Alec McMorris, a football coach at a School and an amputee who has collaborated closely with the project for the past five years.

The collaboration

Utah Bionic Leg: The most advanced AI-powered prosthetics ‘ever created’
During the event of Ottobock licensing the technology behind the Utah Bionic Leg.

The collaboration will provide funding for a cutting-edge motion analysis system that includes a force-sensing stairwell and treadmill, 3D motion-capture cameras, and other tools to assess how the Utah Bionic Leg benefits users and identify potential upgrades to their technology.

In addition, Ottobock and the university will share ownership of any future inventions developed in the facility.

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