PowerFoot Seeks to Redefine Human Prosthetics

It may be time for us to reconsider what it means to live with a prosthetic limb.  Massachusetts-based iWalk has developed a prosthetic foot that is powered through an internal motor, making it the first active prosthetic foot to be released.  The PowerFoot BiOM, as it is known, is a result of millions of dollars the federal government has invested in prosthetics research for wounded soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  To faithfully reproduce the mechanics of a patient’s Achilles’ tendon, ankle, and calf muscle, the PowerFoot BiOM utilizes advanced robotics technology, including multiple microprocessors, sensors, and a durable carbon fiber spring.  The PowerFoot receives its 6-hour power supply from three batteries, and is Bluetooth-enabled, allowing users to adjust important settings using an Android-based smartphone.

The technology utilized in the PowerFoot BiOM makes it much more biomimetic (meaning better at reproducing the actual human mechanics involved in walking) and can automatically adjust itself for changing conditions like ramps or hills.  But, at $50,000+ for a PowerFoot BiOM, is it worth it?  Randy Tipton, an Army Special Forces veteran, was able to try out his new PowerFoot, and was instantly impressed.  He said that with other prosthetics it seems like the patient is “dragging” the prosthetic, which acts more like a crutch.  However, with the new powered prosthetic from iWalk, Tipton claims “It [the PowerFoot BiOM] does everything my other foot does.”  Randy was recently able to walk using his prosthetic foot without even a noticeable limp.  Shane Namack, iWalk’s vice president of sales, claims that the boot is so effective that a patient should be able to, “walk with the same energy expenditure as he did with two legs.”

Although it sports a hefty price tag and tips the scales at over 4 ½ pounds, the PowerFoot BiOM is a major step in prosthetics treatment, and is likely the precursor for more robotic prosthetics breakthroughs in the future.   For more about the PowerFoot BiOM, check out iWalk’s webpage, or read the full article from Houston’s Chron.com.

Written by: Walter Palmer

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