They’re touting it as “the most advanced bionic leg ever created.” And its creators, researchers at the University of Utah’s Bionic Engineering Lab, seem to have the proof to back up that bold claim, evidenced in a study that was published in Nature last year. At the time, lead researcher Tommaso Lenzi said he thought that their battery-operated exoskeleton was still a few years away from being available for public use. Now, it looks like that timeline has been shortened; the university recently forged a partnership with the German prosthetics company Ottobock to bring the Utah Bionic Leg to a broad range of people with lower-limb amputations.
Lenzi says of the licensing deal with Ottobock, “The largest prosthetics manufacturer in the world has committed to use the highest level of technologies available in robotics and AI to bring this prosthetic leg to those who need it as soon as possible…They are saying now is the time to make such technical solutions available to everyone.” Ottobock’s owner, Professor Hans Georg Näder, adds, “Ottobock always seeks to improve functionality and safety for patients and users worldwide…Professor Lenzi’s technology promises to achieve exactly that. It is a superior prosthetic knee, incomparable to any currently available product.”
That’s not just talk from Näder; he’s backing up his words with funding for a cutting edge motion analysis system with 3D motion-capture cameras, a force-sensing staircase, a force-sensing treadmill, and other lab equipment designed to analyze and improve the Utah Bionic Leg. Ottobock and the University of Utah will share joint ownership of new technologies that the updated lab produces.
So what makes the Utah Bionic Leg worthy of such a considerable investment? Lenzi explains, “If you walk faster, it will walk faster for you and give you more energy. Or it adapts automatically to the height of the steps in a staircase. Or it can help you cross over obstacles.” To do these things, the bionic leg uses processors, motors, and state-of-the-art artificial intelligence — all working in concert to give users more power to walk, ascend and descend stairs, stand up, and more. Gyroscopes and accelerometers, along with force and torque sensors, work to determine the position of the leg in space. All the sensors are linked to a computer processor that translates the data into the movements of the prosthetic joints. All with a weight of about 6 pounds, which is about half the weight of other bionic legs.
The end result is a device that offers enhanced mobility for amputees and others who wear prosthetics. And now that the world’s most advanced bionic leg has partnered with the world’s largest prosthetics manufacturer, we can expect this life-changing technology to reach lots more people sooner.