Sunday, September 25, 2011

Robot legs help in restoring ability to walk

 People with disabilities can learn to walk again with the aid of robotic legs, that have been developed by the Dutch university of Twente. The artificial limbs have a built in pattern for movement that simulates walking. They can either take over walking completely, or support patients that try to walk themselves. According to the researchers, their construct can be used to aid people in restoring their walking capacities. The robot legs are not mobile, which means paraplegics can not use them to walk down the street. But perhaps future versions can be used as replacements for biological legs.

In addition, there is also equipment on board to measure errors in patients' walking pattern. This can highlight leg problems, and because the limbs have a built in reference pattern, they can correspondingly be corrected. Patients may learn to walk properly again, by noticing the way the artificial legs correct their own movement. According to the Dutch scientists, this happens by inducing a form of muscle memory, that causes the body to remember the correct walking behavior, whereafter patients will automatically be able to use their legs the right way. Of course, this does not happen overnight, and patients will still need to walk the treadmill periodically to slowly regenerate their walking capacity over time.

The robotic legs seem a great tool for helping people learn to walk again. Even more so, the Dutch project could be expanded in order to create a mobile version, that could be a true replacement for people's own legs. Because the artificial limbs are already able to take over walking completely or partly, the scientists would need to find a way to make it compact enough to carry with you all the time. 

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