February 2022

U-M, HUMOTECH PARTNER TO BRING OPEN-SOURCE BIONIC LEG TO RESEARCH LABS

Alejandro Francisco Azocar, mechanical engineering graduate student research assistant, puts the finishing connections together before testing an open-source robotic leg designed by Elliott Rouse, PhD, and his research group. Image courtesy of Robert Coelius, Michigan Engineering.

The open-source, artificially intelligent prosthetic leg designed by researchers at the University of Michigan (U-M) will be brought to the research market by Humotech, a Pittsburgh-based assistive technology company. The goal of the collaboration is to speed the development of control software for robotic prosthetic legs, which have the potential to provide the power and natural gait of a human leg to prosthetic users.

“We developed the open-source leg to foster the study of control strategies for robotic prostheses…,” said Elliott Rouse, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and core faculty at U-M’s Robotics Institute. “The open-source leg is now being used by over 10 other research groups to develop control strategies on a common platform, but we noticed some research groups would rather not build it themselves.”

First released in 2019, the open-source leg’s free-to-copy design is intended to accelerate scientific advances by offering a unified platform to fragmented research efforts across the field of bionics. The original prosthetic leg was designed to be simple, low-cost, and high-performance. Its modular design can act as a knee, ankle, or both, with an onboard power supply and control electronics that allow it to be tested anywhere. Now, for labs that need an off-the-shelf robotic prosthesis for research and development, Humotech will provide an assembled version of the open-source leg, including warranty service and technical support, according to Josh Caputo, PhD, president and CEO of Humotech.

Humotech, originating from Carnegie Mellon University, develops tools for the advancement of wearable robotic control systems and other wearable devices. Using its own research community, Humotech will further build and support a development community around the open-source leg and seek to incorporate the leg into Humotech’s Caplex platform, a hardware and software testbed that enables researchers to emulate the mechanics of wearable machines, including prostheses and exoskeletons.

In collaboration, Rouse’s lab and Humotech will also iterate on new versions of the open-source leg to meet the needs of prosthetic wearers and researchers. For researchers looking to build the leg on their own, the prosthetic’s parts list, assembly instructions, and programming remain freely available online.

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