CYBATHLON 2020 – POWERED LEG PROSTHESIS RACE. The Swiss team NeuroLegs from the ETH Zurich aims to restore superficial sensory feedback for the missing leg through wearable sensors in the shoes. It is a non-invasive and non-permanent technical approach that does not depend on a specific prosthesis and can therefore be applied to any commercially available solution. Their idea is that the lack of sensory feedback is one of the main factors of prosthesis abandonment and rejection. They believe that by providing sensory feedback mobility confidence and the embodiment of the prosthesis can be increased, in particular for above-knee amputees such as their pilot Stefan Poth. Giacomo Valle is the team manager.
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Fewer dangerous falls and a better quality of life: Why ETH biorobotist Giacomo Valle is developing a new neuroprosthesis for leg amputees.
Leg amputees are hardly noticeable in public spaces. Doesn’t that speak for the quality of existing prostheses, Mr. Valle?
Certainly. The prostheses are good. But you still shouldn’t underestimate the problem: There are four million people in the US and Europe who have lost one or both legs. They have an above-average risk of fall. In addition, they move less than the average of the population. Due to their sedentary lifestyle alone and the long-term medical problems, they cause additional health costs of some 300,000 Swiss francs per capita.
How are you planning to reduce these costs?
Amputees should be able to feel their prosthesis as part of their own body and thus feel safer and more. We are speaking about an artificial sensory feedback. You can compare it to a vibrating joystick: Gamers, for example, who have a haptic experience in addition to the visual experience tend to perform better in a video game.
You are working on a device that a handicapped person straps onto his or her prosthesis. That sounds a little old-fashioned, doesn’t it?
Of course, neuroprostheses can also be implanted – for example, in a patient’s leg nerves. There are research teams working on such a solution. However, we know that many people who suffer from diabetes or the consequences of an accident tend to be reluctant to have additional operations. MyLeg can provide similar benefits with a completely non-invasive solution. In addition, getting medical certifications for a device like ours is much less complicated.
Lower limb amputees use prostheses that do not restore sensory feedback during walking. Because of this, they risk falls, thus losing confidence in the prosthesis and overusing the healthy leg, which causes increased fatigue, and reduced mobility. Because of these reasons, users abandon the prosthesis, with consequent low reinsertion into the working society. MYLEG is a unique device that restores sensory feedback to amputees by gently stimulating with pulses of current the skin of their remaining leg. MYLEG is an add-on to commercially available prostheses. The system is constituted by a sensorized insole that is added to the prosthesis, an external controller that transduces this information for a stimulating system constituted by portable stimulators and electrodes embedded in a portable belt. The optimal placement of the electrodes on the skin and the algorithms that control the stimulation makes the elicited sensations very clear for the amputee, and thus the overall system easy to use.
The long-term vision of the MYLEG project is to improve mobility and prosthesis cognitive integration, by restoring sensory feedback, in people with leg amputation where they matter the most to them, during their daily life. There are no commercial devices similar to the one proposed in MYLEG. The prosthesis restoring sensory feedback will enable users to avoid falls, to increase confidence in the device, which will reduce counterbalancing movements, and fatigue. The MYLEG neuroprosthesis would enable the National Health Systems to save up to €330’000 per amputee, connected to a sedentary lifestyle following prosthesis abandonment. The sensory feedback system will represent a new product in the prosthetics market (valued €1.2 billion in 2019), allowing its further expansion.
A non-invasive sensory feedback to improve MobilitY and to promote cognitive prosthesis integration in people with LEG amputation
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