Strong, Reliable, and Adaptable, Meet the Utah Bionic Leg

Researchers at the University of Utah have partnered with Ottobock – the world’s largest prosthetic manufacturer – to produce the most advanced AI-powered prosthetics “ever created.” 

“The goal of the partnership is to ‘refine ability’ by combining advanced technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, neural engineering with manufacturing, health services and patient care,” said Tommaso Lenzi, director of the Bionic Engineering Lab at the University of Utah. “We want to make sure the cutting-edge technologies go from the lab to the market as quickly as possible. This partnership will enable us to do exactly that.”

The Utah Bionic Leg combines motors, processors, and artificial intelligence to provide amputees with the strength and mobility they require.

“It is a superior prosthetic knee, incomparable to any currently available product,” said Hans Georg Näder, owner of Ottobock.

People with lower-limb amputations rely on their intact legs and upper body to compensate for the lack of support provided by their prosthesis. The Utah Bionic Leg lessens this problem as its increased power facilitates mobility.

“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,” said Lenzi.

Custom-designed force and torque sensors, along with accelerometers and gyroscopes, are used by the prosthesis to determine its position in space. The sensors are linked to a computer processor which translates sensor inputs into movements of the prosthetic joints. Electrical motors are connected to the robotic joints, creating an optimized system that can adapt the joint behaviors for each activity, “like shifting gears on a bike.”

The researchers and Ottobock plan to conduct a motion analysis system that will include a force-sensing stairwell and treadmill, 3D motion-capture cameras, and other tools to assess how the Utah Bionic Leg benefits users and identify potential upgrades.