Stability of the human ankle in relation to environmental mechanics
This paper describes the design of an ankle-foot robotic prosthesis controllable in the sagittal and frontal planes. The prosthesis was designed to meet the mechanical characteristics of the human ankle including power, range of motion, and weight. To transfer the power from the motors and gearboxes to the ankle-foot mechanism, a Bowden cable system was used. The Bowden cable allows for optimal placement of the motors and gearboxes in order to improve gait biomechanics such as the metabolic energy cost and gait asymmetry during locomotion. Additionally, it allows flexibility in the customization of the device to amputees with different residual limb sizes. To control the prosthesis, impedance controllers in both sagittal and frontal planes were developed. The impedance controllers used torque feedback from strain gages installed on the foot. Preliminary evaluation was performed to verify the capability of the prosthesis to track the kinematics of the human ankle in two degrees of freedom (DOFs), the mechanical efficiency of the Bowden cable transmission, and the ability of the prosthesis to modulate the impedance of the ankle. Moreover, the system was characterized by describing the relationship between the stiffness of the impedance controllers to the actual stiffness of the ankle. Efficiency estimation showed 85.4% efficiency in the Bowden cable transmission. The prosthesis was capable of properly mimicking human ankle kinematics and changing its mechanical impedance in two DOFs in real time with a range of stiffness sufficient for normal human walking. In dorsiflexion-plantarflexion (DP), the stiffness ranged from 0 to 236 Nm/rad and in inversion-eversion (IE), the stiffness ranged from 1 to 33 Nm/rad.