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Innovating in the Netherlands

New technology allows bionic legs to be controlled via electrical impulses from the brain

The University of Twente, in collaboration with the German company Ottobock, has developed a new technology thanks to which bionic legs can be intuitively controlled and moved by electrical impulses sent by the brain.

"The Six Million Dollar Man", also called “The Nuclear Man” in some countries, was a series from the 1970s.

Such a complete bionic man remains science fiction for the time being. What is certain, however, is that more and more parts of the human body can be replaced by mechanical ones.

A recent example is a robotic leg developed at the University of Twente, in the eastern part of the Netherlands.

The leg can be controlled by amputees in a natural and intuitive way. The technology is based on the concept of musculoskeletal modelling and it, therefore, represents an alternative to widely used machine learning methods.

The University of Twente said: "The researchers created a detailed digital model of a person's leg. This design took into account the organic tissues inside the leg”.

In addition, "the digital model included an accurate description of the missing muscles, tendons and joints of the amputee".

With this information, "the researchers recorded EMG signals from multiple sites in the leg muscles. These signals were then used to determine how virtual muscles in the model would activate and generate force in the leg joints.

Finally, in what is a ground-breaking new phase in the field of controlled prosthetics, the researchers were able to successfully send the movement force signals to the robotic prosthesis in real-time.

This new, intuitively controllable bionic leg offers amputees new possibilities. With this intelligent and innovative opportunity, another breakthrough has been achieved in the field of prostheses that move as naturally as possible.

It is becoming increasingly possible to replace individual parts of the human body with mechanical ones and, thanks to nanotechnology, these are becoming more and more conceivable.

Blind people can sometimes (partially) regain their sight and there are increasingly intelligent hearing aids for the hearing impaired. Even more strikingly, there are prostheses that can do a number of things that humans cannot do, such as lenses that can zoom in and out.

Dr. José Gonzalez Vargas, the coordinator of the project, says: "To make it possible to control mechatronic devices intuitively and, at the same time, increase the awareness of the user, in all the different situations of everyday life: this is where research in prosthetics and orthotics can make the most of the benefits. With these results, we are one step closer to that goal”.

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