The Army is working with the medical prosthetics industry to provide more flexible and customized prosthetic limbs for soldiers who have been gravely wounded in combat. Researchers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center are fitting amputees with what are called "autoadaptive" prosthetic legs, which give them more natural walking and moving capability, so much so that some are even returning to active military service, according to the Army.
The X3 Power series of lower-limb prostheses -- made primarily of graphite and titanium -- includes a number of technologies, including a microprocessor, sensors, a gyroscope, and an accelerometer, to respond in a way a normal foot, knee, or ankle would respond as a person moves and walks. Then, the device adjusts its programming accordingly to a person's gait pattern to provide a more realistic movement for the patient.
Outfitted with one of the Army's newly designed autoadaptive and flexible prosthetic limbs, Army Staff Sgt. Billy Costello, who lost his leg in combat, stretches and flexes his foot. (Source: Department of Defense)
Minneapolis-based prosthetics provider Otto Bock developed the X3, which -- in addition to its flexibility and bionic capabilities -- also includes an environmental seal and water resistance and immersion capabilities. It can also recharge while in use, giving its wearers a more natural and uninterrupted user experience. The X3 is a next-generation, ruggedized version of an X2 device, the first prosthetic leg to allow those wearing it to run forward and backward and climb stairs, movement that was historically limited by prostheses.
The Army has posted a video (watch it below) demonstrating how the new prostheses -- created with the help of research in robotics, tissue engineering, and nanotechnology -- performs with two servicemen who lost limbs in combat and are returning to civilian life. Currently, the military has distributed 70 X3 Power prostheses to patients and expects to have 100 in use by the end of May. Because of their lightweight and adaptive design, the soldiers said they find it easier to use the X3 prosthetics because they require less energy.
Lower limbs are the focus of current innovations in prosthetics because of the more than 1,400 soldiers who have lost limbs since the US began its military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 82 percent were lower-extremity losses due to improvised explosive device injuries and the like, according to the Army.
I've seen stuff focusing on kinetic energy for charging batteries for cell phones and media players. I think the adaptation of this technology to these would be straight forward. Battery life should not be an issue. When I walk I charge.
Impressive and moving article. One section mentioned it can recharge while in use. I'm wondering if this means it connects to external power or if it can recapture some of the work energy and turn it back into electrical energy?
Interesting that one of the materials use is titanium, which apparently has superb properties for structural uses, but is also extremely expensive. For that reason, it's usually confined to military and some medical applications, like surgical instruments, as well as sports.
The article made me think of British WWII fighter pilot Douglas Bader (lost both legs before the war, but still was able to return to duty and become an ace 4 times over).
The article made me think of a common theme found here at Design News this past year, that of battery life. How long does a charge last for this brilliant prosthetics? Forget about our smartphone battery life; these are reason enough to dedicate research dollars into better power storage.
inevitably, at some point the battery in them will run out at a less than opportune time. I wonder if these brilliant prosthetics have some sort of "run flat" mode. Can they still be used without power? Maybe not as naturally and effortlessly, but I hope the user isn't left stranded.
The soldier shown in the video limps slightly, but his gait is far more natural than what you normally see with wearers of prosthetic limbs. I do wonder how similar this technology is to that of iWalk, a Massachusetts-based company that we've written about proviously. iWalk developed a powered ankle that offers an amazing improvement for prostheses wearers.
These prosthetic limbs have come a long way in my lifetime. I remember the Viet Nam vets coming how with prosthetic limbs. The vets I knew could hardly walk on their limbs given the pain the prosthetics caused.
Thanks for another fantastic article. Many service people are naturally athletic. It's good to see the medical prosthetics industry continuing to offer real quality of life for those who've lost limbs. Many civilians in the world, mostly children, who lose limbs to land mines could benefit from this also.
On Memorial Day, Americans remember the sacrifices the US armed forces have made, and continue to make, in service to the country. All of us should also consider the developments in technological capabilities and equipment over the years that contribute to the success of our military operations.
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