You too can become a twinkle-toed Terminator with Tensegrity prosthetic foot


Tensegrity, a prototype prosthesis, offers the wearer a stable gait thanks to its reproduction of the human foot's natural mechanisms. From Medgadget:

Built by inventor and mechanical engineer Jerome Rifkin, the artificial foot bends like a normal foot and ankle, and conforms to the terrain underneath it. The prosthetic options for foot amputees is limited due to the complexity involved in mimicking the weight-bearing action and propulsion involved with the foot.

While fancy robotic prosthetic feet are already available, insurers don't like them and won't pay for them. Tensegrity, however, doesn't use complex, vulnerable electronics: it's pure hardware, manipulated with thick braided metal ropes and pneumatics, with no need for expensive motors, regenerative power cycling or AI chips.

"The human foot is ... a passive device. You just have to set it up correctly and let it do what it does," Rifkin told Popular Science, which reports that it cost $100,000 and eight years to develop. It has video of it in action.

A more natural prosthetic foot [Medgadget]

The Natural Artificial Foot [PopSci]

Published by Rob Beschizza

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  1. It’s a nice design, but calling it “true tensegrity” is a bit of a misnomer.

    (cable actuated) != (tensegrity)

  2. I gathered that it wasn’t cable actuated so much as cable-limited. It appears (and the engineer so claims) that it is a passive device.

  3. Electronics isn’t the way to go I agree.

    Materials and engineering…and that guy. 😀

  4. Well, what I’d like to see is an acceptable foot or ankle implant. My wife still has functional (or mostly functional) elbows, shoulders, neck*, hips and knees via implants, but they still haven’t come up with anything acceptable for the ankle or whole foot.

    (The best the doctor at Mayo could do — and he was one of the best foot/ankle specialists in North America — when her right foot and ankle finally discombobulated completely two years ago was to put the bones and such back in correct positions and then fuse the whole thing with metal plates, screws, and bone paste. No more razor-blades-and-nails level pain in that foot now, but it would be nice if she still had a foot that, y’know, bent.)

    *Getting her neck rebuilt was the most serious, and the scariest, since it was precipitated by her upper cervical vertebrae shattering and letting her brain start to shift downwards onto the shards. As her neurosurgeon told her, “Well, without the surgery, you’ll probably die sometime in the next two weeks. Although you might live as long as six months, but most of that would probably be as a brain-damaged quadriplegic.” Even with a 1-in-7 chance of dying on the operating table, the surgery was preferable.

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