Chapter 5: Cyborg Technology – Biomimetic Orthotic and Prosthetic Technology

H. Herr, G. P. Whiteley, and D. Childress. Chapter 5: Cyborg Technology – Biomimetic Orthotic and Prosthetic Technology, SPIE Press, Bellingham, WA, 2003.


A long standing goal in engineering is to exploit the unique designs of the body to guide the development of anthropomorphic artificial appendages that exhibit human-like stability, strength and speed in a variety of natural environments. Although tremendous technological progress has been made since the days of the wooden peg leg, contemporary orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) limbs cannot yet perform as well as their biological counterparts, whether in terms of stability, fatigue-life or speed (Popovic & Sinkjaer 2000). However, in the next several decades continued advances in human-machine neural interfaces, muscle-like actuators and biomimetic humanoid control schemes may result in dramatic improvements in the quality of life of the physically challenged. In this chapter, we review key research areas relevant to the O&P field. By way of case study, we describe both artificial and actin-myosin based muscle actuators, control methodologies that exploit principles of biological movement, and device architectures that resemble the body’s own skeletal design. We limit our discussions to external devices, specifically designed for human rehabilitation, that attach to human arms and legs. Described are orthoses that attach in parallel to human limbs for the treatment of limb dysfunction, and prostheses that attach in series to limbs for the treatment of limb amputation. After completing the chapter, you will know the brief history of O&P appendages, from the crude peg leg used by the Romans to contemporary microprocessor-controlled artificial limbs. You will also learn of research areas that are actively being studied that may prove critical to the next generation of O&P technology.

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