Development of a Wearable Haptic Feedback System for Use in Lower-Limb Prosthetics: Proof of Concept and Verification
Skin and muscle receptors in the leg and foot provide able-bodied humans with force and position information that is crucial for balance and movement control. In lower-limb amputees however, this vital information is either missing or incomplete. Amputees typically compensate for the loss of sensory information by relying on haptic feedback from the stump-socket interface. Unfortunately, this is not an adequate substitute. Areas of the stump that directly interface with the socket are also prone to painful irritation, which further degrades haptic feedback. The lack of somatosensory feedback from prosthetic legs causes several problems for lower-limb amputees. Previous studies have established that the lack of adequate sensory feedback from prosthetic limbs contributes to poor balance and abnormal gait kinematics. These improper gait kinematics can, in turn, lead to the development of musculoskeletal diseases. Finally, the absence of sensory information has been shown to lead to steeper learning curves and increased rehabilitation times, which hampers amputees from recovering from the trauma. In this study, a novel haptic feedback system for lower-limb amputees was develped, and studies were performed to verify that information presented was sufficiently accurate and precise in comparison to a Bertec 4060-NC force plate. The prototype device consisted of a sensorized insole, a belt-mounted microcontroller, and a linear array of four vibrotactile motors worn on the thigh. The prototype worked by calculating the center of pressure in the anteroposterior plane, and applying a time-discrete vibrotactile stimulus based on the location of the center of pressure.