Researchers at Vanderbilt University created a more agile prosthetic leg using smartphone innovations, the latest example of how mobile technology is propelling medical advances.
The Vanderbilt leg, weighing in less than most lower limbs at nine pounds, is unique in its ability to use computer, sensor, motor, and battery technology to better power knee and ankle joints in unison, allowing amputees to walk with a more natural gait. The prosthetic leg also senses ground slope and avoids obstructions to optimize balance.
The researchers’ seven-year effort harnesses several technological advances made possible by smartphones, including microprocessors that use data to predict people’s intended actions and prompts the device to respond. And, on one charge, the device can function at normal levels for about three days, requiring 30 to 40 percent less than an average person’s energy to operate.
“We have validated our hypothesis that the right technology was available to make a lower-limb prosthetic with powered knee and ankle joints,” said Michael Goldfarb, research director and professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt. “Our device illustrates the progress we are making in integrating man and machine.”
The Vanderbilt leg joins previous breakthroughs in using smartphones to improve people’s medical conditions.
The PhoneOximeter, developed by the University of British Columbia’s Electrical and Computer Engineering in Medicine, can detect signs of hypoxemia, or low blood oxygen levels. This helps to prevent brain damage or death from an overdose of anesthesia.
In addition to blood oxygen monitors, another mobile-based medical device, named “Resolution MD Mobile,” helps doctors diagnose stroke victims on the spot by enabling them to view and even manipulate real-time brain scan images, which are then processed in a cloud-server that permits fast and accurate diagnoses in a situation where even seconds count.
In the future, if smartphones ever have 12-megapixel cameras with advanced autofocus powers that can measure a handful of millimeters, researchers may even use them to create an artificial eyeball. And other mobile technologies, like Bluetooth, wireless connections, and NFC may have applications down the road that haven’t even been dreamed of yet.