Prosthetic limbs have evolved a lot over the years, from rudimentary wooden attachments to bionic, brain-controlled devices that are packed with features.

Although they're still far from replicating the real thing, the folks at Vanderbilt University have come closer than ever with their new prosthetic ankle that mimics the movements and sensations that occur naturally in real limbs.

Engineers at Vanderbilt University, led by mechanical engineering professor Michael Goldfarb, unveiled an advanced prosthetic ankle that will revolutionize the way amputees or people who need artificial legs walk.

How Does The Human Ankle Function?

The ankle allows you to perform a variety of actions: from lifting the toe to avoid scraping it on the ground or tripping over, angling the foot to absorb the impact when it lands on the ground or as you adjust your weight. The ankle does all this while trying to adjust to the bumps or irregularities it encounters.

Not many prosthetic devices have been able to replicate all these functions. Traditional prosthetic ankles have only managed to go as far as performing basic functions such as absorbing shock with the help of springs and padding.

'Smart' Prosthetic Ankle Adapts To User's Walk, Terrain

Goldfarb and his team have developed a "smart" prosthetic ankle that is equipped with a tiny motor, actuator, sensors, and chip, which allow the hydraulic device to act and move just like a real ankle. It can detect variations in pressure and weight and determine how each step should be taken.

For example, when it realizes that the user has lifted the foot to take a step, it raises the toe to keep it clear and lowers the heel when the user puts his or her foot down before taking the next step.

"You can walk up slopes, down slopes, up stairs and down stairs, and the device figures out what you're doing and functions the way it should," Goldfarb said in a news release.

Tried And Tested

The device, which can we worn by anyone regardless of height and weight, was tried and tested by Mike Sasser, a tester for the team with a below-the-knee amputation.

Sasser, who has been testing the ankle for the last six months on a treadmill and stairs in the lab, said that the product is an improvement over the bulky and heavy prosthetics available in the market right now.

The device is still under development, and it will take a few more years before it becomes available for purchase. When it does, it is expected to cost around $3,200 including insurance.

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