Biomechatronics | Neural Control
Massachusetts institute of technology, MIT, MIT Media Lab, robotics, prosthetics, prostheses, exoskeletons, orthoses, orthosis, science, engineering, biomechanics, mechatronics,

Neural Control


Neural control of bionic prostheses will allow users to dynamically adapt their gait to changing terrains.


Proportional EMG Control of Ankle Plantar Flexion in a Powered Transtibial Prosthesis

The human calf muscle generates 80% of the mechanical work to walk throughout stance-phase, powered plantar flexion. Powered plantar flexion is not only important for walking energetics, but also to minimize the impact on the leading leg at heel-strike. For unilateral transtibial amputees, it has recently been shown that knee load on the leading, intact limb decreases as powered plantar flexion in the trailing prosthetic ankle increases. Not surprisingly, excessive loads on the leading, intact knee are believed to be causative of knee osteoarthritis, a leading secondary impairment in lower- extremity amputees. In this study, we hypothesize that a transtibial amputee can learn how to control a powered ankle- foot prosthesis using a volitional electromyographic (EMG) control to directly modulate ankle powered plantar flexion. We here present preliminary data, and find that an amputee participant is able to modulate toe-off angle, net ankle work and peak power across a broad range of walking speeds by volitionally modulating calf EMG activity. The modulation of these key gait parameters is shown to be comparable to the dynamical response of the same powered prosthesis controlled intrinsically (No EMG), suggesting that transtibial amputees can achieve an adequate level of powered plantar flexion controllability using direct volitional EMG control.

J. Wang, O. A. Kannape, and H. M. Herr
Proportional EMG Control of Ankle Plantar Flexion in a Powered Transtibial Prosthesis, IEEE ICORR, 2013

Powered ankle-foot prosthesis to assist level-ground and stair-descent gaits.

The human ankle varies impedance and delivers net positive work during the stance period of walking. In contrast, commercially available ankle-foot prostheses are passive during stance, causing many clinical problems for transtibial amputees, including non-symmetric gait patterns, higher gait metabolism, and poorer shock absorption. In this investigation, we develop and evaluate a myoelectric-driven, finite state controller for a powered ankle-foot prosthesis that modulates both impedance and power output during stance. The system employs both sensory inputs measured local to the external prosthesis, and myoelectric inputs measured from residual limb muscles. Using local prosthetic sensing, we first develop two finite state controllers to produce biomimetic movement patterns for level-ground and stair-descent gaits. We then employ myoelectric signals as control commands to manage the transition between these finite state controllers. To transition from level-ground to stairs, the amputee flexes the gastrocnemius muscle, triggering the prosthetic ankle to plantar flex at terminal swing, and initiating the stair-descent state machine algorithm. To transition back to level-ground walking, the amputee flexes the tibialis anterior muscle, triggering the ankle to remain dorsiflexed at terminal swing, and initiating the level-ground state machine algorithm. As a preliminary evaluation of clinical efficacy, we test the device on a transtibial amputee with both the proposed controller and a conventional passive-elastic control. We find that the amputee can robustly transition between the finite state controllers through direct muscle activation, allowing rapid transitioning from level-ground to stair walking patterns. Additionally, we find that the proposed finite state controllers result in a more biomimetic ankle response, producing net propulsive work during level-ground walking and greater shock absorption during stair descent. The results of this study highlight the potential of prosthetic leg controllers that exploit neural signals to trigger terrain-appropriate, local prosthetic leg behaviors.

S. K. Au, M. Berniker, and H. M. Herr.
Powered ankle-foot prosthesis to assist level-ground and stair-descent gaits, Neural Networks, vol. 21, 2008.


Powered ankle-foot prosthesis

 The minimum level of series compliance that adequately protects the transmission from damage during foot collision fails to satisfy bandwidth requirements. As a resolution to this difficulty, parallel motor elasticity is used to lower the forces borne by the SEA, enhancing system force bandwidth. To minimize prosthesis COTand motor or transmission size, we select a parallel stiffness that supplies the necessary ankle stiffness during early stance period dorsiflexion, eliminating the need for SEA during that gait phase. In future investigations, we hope to apply the ankle-foot design to robotic, orthotic, and exoskeletal applications. In the design of biomimetic ankle-foot systems, we feel both series and parallel motor elasticity are of paramount importance.

S. K. Au, and H. M. Herr.
Powered ankle-foot prosthesis, IEEE R&AM, 2008.