Better prosthetics: $3M to develop more natural robotic leg control

December 23, 2023
Student demonstrates using a prosthetic leg climbing a set of stairs to a platform.

A smoother experience for robotic prosthetic leg users is the aim of a University of Michigan project that has received renewed support from the National Institutes of Health. The R01 grant of $3 million will also enable the implementation of the researchers’ improved control program on a commercially available robotic prosthetic leg. 

Sit to stand, stand to walk, up and down stairs and inclines—the human body shifts among these activities almost thoughtlessly. But these transitions are hard for robots, and robotic prosthetic legs have the additional challenge of not being hooked into the human user’s central nervous system to stay synchronized with their body. 

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Choosing exoskeleton settings like a Pandora radio station

October 19, 2023
Using a simple and convenient touchscreen interface, the algorithm learns the assistance preferences of the wearer. Video: Levi Hutmacher.

Taking inspiration from music streaming services, a team of engineers at the University of Michigan, Google and Georgia Tech has designed the simplest way for users to program their own exoskeleton assistance settings.

Of course, what’s simple for the users is more complex underneath, as a machine learning algorithm repeatedly offers pairs of assistance profiles that are most likely to be comfortable for the wearer. The user then selects one of these two, and the predictor offers another assistance profile that it believes might be better. This approach enables users to set the exoskeleton assistance based on their preferences using a very simple interface, conducive to implementing on a smartwatch or phone.

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‘Fake’ data helps robots learn the ropes faster

June 29, 2022

In a step toward robots that can learn on the fly like humans do, a new approach expands training data sets for robots that work with soft objects like ropes and fabrics, or in cluttered environments.

Developed by robotics researchers at the University of Michigan, it could cut learning time for new materials and environments down to a few hours rather than a week or two.

In simulations, the expanded training data set improved the success rate of a robot looping a rope around an engine block by more than 40% and nearly doubled the successes of a physical robot for a similar task.

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A more comfortable robotic prosthetic leg

July 15, 2020

A new robotic prosthetic leg prototype offers a more natural gait while also being quieter and more energy efficient than other designs. 

The key is the use of new small and powerful motors, originally designed for a robotic arm on the International Space Station. The streamlined design offers a free-swinging knee and regenerative braking, which charges the battery with energy captured when the foot hits the ground. This feature enables the leg to more than double a typical prosthetic user’s walking needs with one charge per day.

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Roofing drone nails down shingles

September 23, 2019
The roofing octocopter, equipped with a nail gun, is parked near the mock roof. By setting the wooden panel at different inclines, the researchers simulated roofs with different slopes. Image credit: Matthew Romano, Michigan Robotics.

An octocopter capable of attaching asphalt shingles to roofs with a nail gun has been demonstrated at the University of Michigan’s M-Air, an outdoor autonomous system testing lab.

This aerial vehicle can position the nail gun, place the nail, and move to the next point without needing a human at the controls.

“For me, the biggest excitement of this work is in recognizing that autonomous, useful, physical interaction and construction tasks are possible with drones,” said Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering and robotics.

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