Better mobility drives University of Ottawa mechanical engineering lab to create new technologies.

Marc Dourmit is an assistant professor in the University of Ottawa’s department of Mechanical Engineering with the very ambitious goal of developing a bionic leg that will bring a new level of freedom and mobility to lower limb amputees. In the US alone, there are 1.7 million people living with limb loss,1 however, there are many challenges in developing a replacement limb as advanced components must be developed and integrated into a package that is safe and reliable while looking and feeling good for the user.

Prosthetics and artificial limb systems have continuously improved with the development of new technologies. Recent advancements include smart adapting microprocessor knees, myoelectric controllers and targeted muscle re-innervation. These enable smarter and more lifelike artificial limbs with rugged and advanced components. Despite such advancements, adapting new technologies into an affordable prosthetic remains a significant challenge.

Professor Dourmit and his students are taking a long term perspective by developing and testing new components for artificial limbs one piece at a time. Many of their components may also be used for other applications. For example, Mr. Dourmit’s team has developed an enhanced pneumatic actuator muscle that is capable of handling up to 10 times more force than standard technology, saving crucial weight and bulk for the leg. These pneumatic muscles could also have industrial , aerospace, and military applications such as weight bearing exoskeletons for military or recreational use, and tactile industrial robotics found on automotive factory lines.

With the demonstrated abilities of this muscle well established, work has now begun in its application to an advanced prosthetic. Brandon Fournier, a 4th year engineering student in Professor Doumit’s lab is testing the muscle’s responsiveness to EMG control as part of his honours project. EMG, or electromyography measures the electrical signal of muscles. These signals are tapped by Mr. Fournier in order to control the muscle, with a view to controlling the artificial leg. He is laying out the groundwork for future projects that will use EMG as well as other inputs in order to control powered prosthetic assistive devices with pneumatic artificial muscles.

We will continue to follow this exciting project and look for new technologies that take Dr. Doumit and his team a step closer to the development of a new bionic leg. In parallel, we will be looking for other applications in order to transfer the technologies into companies that will integrate them into other products.

To see the pneumatic muscle in action, just click on the video below.

Additional information about the pneumatic artificial muscle can be found at the Autm – Global Technology Portal http://gtp.autm.net/network/university-of-ottawa/technology/view/33967

1. Kathryn Ziegler-Graham, PhD, et al. “Estimating the Prevalence of Limb Loss in the United States – 2005 to 2050,” Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 89 (2008): 422-429.

About Ottawa Technology Transfer Network
The Ottawa Technology Transfer Network (OTTN) is a collaboration among academic research institutions affiliated with the University of Ottawa and who's goal is to enhance the economic impact of research commercialization through the sharing of best practices, enhanced market knowledge, student engagement and proactive industrial interation. OTTN members include the University of Ottawa, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institutie (OHRI), the Childrens' Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and the Unviversity of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI)

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