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Science of Robotic Legs May Eventually Help Individuals with Spinal Cord Injuries

Posted on in Catastrophic Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can occur during many moments in life. Serious neck and back injuries that affect the spinal cord can result from car accidents, sports injuries, and even domestic violence. Individuals with spinal cord injuries may eventually benefit from the science behind a new type of robot legs that use human legs as a model. Researchers at the University of Arizona recently released a paper that describes the new development in robotic bipedal movement.

Traditionally, robots with two legs have a hard time negotiating the surface they move across even when the surface is smooth. Any deviation in the walking surface like an incline, decline or bump severely throws off traditional bipedal robots. However, technology developed at the University of Arizona may allow for more nimble two-legged robots.

We measure our walking environment by collecting information from our legs and feet and transfer the information to our spinal cord. Information collected from our lower legs is transferred to a network of neurons in the spinal cord, which is referred to as the central pattern generator. The central pattern generator allows us to remain steady when walking without requiring us to actively think.

Researchers have used this model and adopted it to two-legged robots. Scientists attached sensors at the bottom of the robot's feet. The sensors tell the robot whether the feet are on the ground and the sensors communicate with internal position sensors that activate different parts of the robot leg. The process allows the robot legs to more easily adapt to changes in surfaces when walking. The research may help scientists better understand the neuroscience behind walking.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Scientists Make Robotic Legs that Move Like Ours Do," Deborah Netburn, July 7, 2012

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