Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have unveiled their latest project: a robotic ankle that could help wheelchair-bound people to walk.

This could be a huge development for people with neuromuscular disorders, such as cerebral palsy, potentially transforming their mobility and quality of life.

The device uses pneumatic ‘muscles’ that replicate the natural movement of the foot and ankle, and which the developers believe can improve a wearer’s walking ability.  Check out this video:

But will it really work?

Independent research has shown that increasing ankle-strength can lead to improved function, gait speed, and quality of life in children with cerebral palsy. 

However, while conventional ankle braces often improve a patients’ gait, their long-term use can lead to muscle wastage due to misuse.

The academics behind this project believe their ‘robotic ankle’ could solve that problem. But only long-term research will determine whether the device will actually strengthen and activate muscles, or if the users will become dependent, as with many standard supports.

Potential

Experts are cautiously optimistic about this latest development.

Firefly’s Clinical Research Manager, Clare Canale, said: “It’s fabulous to see technological innovation which might eventually allow people with Neuromuscular disorders to sustain functional movement for as long as possible. Such a device in reality would need to be part of an ongoing tailored physiotherapy programme, but the potential is exciting.”

So, there’s lots of testing and research still to be done, but the possibilities sound promising. We’ll keep you updated with any developments as we get them.

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