With over 30 million people worldwide requiring assistive devices, there is a great need for low-cost and high-performance prosthetic technologies that can enable kinematics close to able-bodied gait. Low-income users of prosthetic knees in the developing world repeatedly report the need for n inconspicuous gait to mitigate the severe socioeconomic discrimination associated with disability. However, passive prosthetic knees designed for these users have primarily focused on stability and affordability, often at the cost of the high biomechanical performance that is required to replicate able-bodied kinematics. In this study, we present the design and preliminary testing of two distinct mechanism modules that are novel for passive prosthetic knee applications: the stability module and the damping module. These mechanisms are designed to enable users of single-axis, passive prosthetic knees to walk with close to able-bodied kinematics on level-ground, specifically during the transition from the stance phase to the swing phase of the gait cycle. The stability module was implemented with a latch mounted on a virtual axis of a four-bar linkage, which can be engaged during early stance for stability and disengaged during late stance to initiate knee flexion. The damping module was implemented with a concentric stack of stationary and rotating pairs of plates that shear thin films of high-viscosity silicone oil. The goal of the resulting first-order damping torque was to achieve smooth flexion of the prosthetic knee within the able-bodied gait range (64 ± 6 deg). For preliminary user-centric validation, a prototype prosthetic knee with the stability module and two different dampers (with varying damping coefficients) was tested on a single subject with above-knee amputation in India. The stability module enabled smooth transition from stance to swing with timely initiation of knee flexion. The dampers also performed satisfactorily, as the increase in the damping coefficient was found to decrease the peak knee flexion angle during swing. The applications of the mechanisms presented in this article could significantly improve the kinematic performance of low-cost, passive prosthetic knees.
Journal of Mechanisms and Robotics Open Issues