Prosthetic limb technology has advanced by leaps and bounds, giving amputees a range of bionic options, including artificial knees controlled by microchips, sensor-laden feet driven by artificial intelligence, and robotic hands that a user can manipulate with her mind. But such high-tech designs can cost tens of thousands of dollars, making them unattainable for many amputees, particularly in developing countries.
Now MIT engineers have developed a simple, low-cost, passive prosthetic foot that they can tailor to an individual. Given a user's body weight and size, the researchers can tune the shape and stiffness of the prosthetic foot, such that the user's walk is similar to an able-bodied gait. They estimate that the foot, if manufactured on a wide scale, could cost an order of magnitude less than existing products.
The custom-designed prostheses are based on a design framework developed by the researchers, which provides a quantitative way to predict a user's biomechanical performance, or walking behavior, based on the mechanical design of the prosthetic foot.