Two students at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are working with an athlete to improve the design of prosthetic legs.
The students are using technology in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) to develop a more comfortable prosthetic socket for Paralympics hopeful Tania Goddard.
Tania is an above-knee amputee who is part of the British Shooting Talent Pathway Programme for Team GB and hopes to compete in the Paralympic Games, either in Tokyo 2020 or Paris 2024.
Two years ago, Tania approached Dr Appolinaire Etoundi, who is Senior Lecturer in Mechatronics at UWE Bristol and uses inspiration from systems found in nature to optimise rehabilitation devices such as prosthetic limbs. She asked him to develop a socket to house her prosthetic leg that avoids common problems such as chafing or excessive temperatures.
Dr Etoundi involved two students in the project: Mike Rose and Mayur Hulke.
“The aim is to develop an intelligent socket that will adapt to the patient’s condition through the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and composite materials to determine when there are fluctuations in temperature and pressure within the socket,” said Dr Etoundi.
Mayur Hulke said: “We are now able to combine biological human sensory systems with smart external limbs and this will be helping individuals to overcome certain physical limitations and, in some cases, restore their quality of life.”
Tania Goddard had her leg amputated in 2012 due to a medical condition. She has been unable to find a prosthetic that is pain-free.
“After 15 NHS sockets in two years and being told they were unable to help me lead a normal life, I thought I had to face living the rest of my life in a wheelchair,” she said.
As part of the research project, Tania has walked around the Frenchay campus wearing one of her prosthetic legs on a socket containing specially designed sensors detecting where rubbing occurs, as well as fluctuations in temperature.
“This work is giving me real hope to be able to walk again, and it could help thousands of amputees across the world, because if they can get a socket design to fit me, then it will fit anyone,” said Goddard.
The entrepreneurs Goddard is working with are also developing bio-inspired prosthetic devices and robotic exoskeletons. On 4 May, they take part in Bristol Museum’s Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, in line with the famous artist’s interest in skeleton, muscles, and movement.