July 17, 2012 -
Researchers at the University of Arizona have developed a robotic leg that perfectly mimics how a real person walks. The researchers were able to develop the artificial limb by studying biometric gait recognition. The robotic limb is able to walk on its own in a biologically accurate manner. It has been outfitted with neural, muscular and skeletal systems that are the key components in the human leg.
This has allowed researchers to take a closer look at how the human process works and hopes that the study will help them better understand dynamics between the neural architecture, musculoskeletal architecture and sensory feedback of the body better. Researchers hope to better understand the beginnings of how a baby or infant learns to walk and how the body does the process without needing to think about it. The ultimate goal of the research is to find better approaches in helping patients who have suffered from spinal cord injuries regain their mobility.
Researchers have realized that the key to the movement or the whole process is the central pattern generator or CPG. It is an actual part of the human anatomy and is located somewhere deep within the lumbar region of the spinal cord (lower back) and is responsible for the rhythmic signals being sent to the lower extremities that makes walking possible. The rhythm of the signals it sends to the legs is highly dependent on several other factors such as the environment surrounding the body, the terrain and even the density of the crowd around that person.
A simple form of the CPG is called a half-center and mainly consists of just two neurons which fires signals back and forth to one another. The alternate firing of signals generates a rhythm that makes walking by the artificial limb possible. It is also equipped with sensors that translate force and pressure each time the leg is pressed against a surface. The information is then relayed back to the half-center through another set of signals.
In what other ways can biometric technologies and concepts aid in the development of medical products?