Robotic Prosthesis Image
Proof-of-concept rendering (left) and photo (right) of the prototype of the microfluidics-enabled soft robotic prosthesis. (Credit: Waterloo Microfluidics Laboratory at University of Waterloo)

A new type of prosthetic using microfluidics-enabled soft robotics promises to greatly reduce skin ulcerations and pain in patients who have had an amputation between the ankle and knee.

The researchers started with a recently developed device using pneumatic actuators to adjust the pressure of the prosthetic socket. This initial device was quite heavy, limiting its use in real-world situations. To address this problem, the group developed a way to miniaturize the actuators. They designed a microfluidic chip with 10 integrated pneumatic valves to control each actuator.

The full system is controlled by a miniature air pump and two solenoid valves that provide air to the microfluidic chip. The control box is small and light enough to be worn as part of the prosthesis. All 10 actuators were found to produce pressures in the desired range, suggesting the new device will work well in the field. Future research will test the approach on a more accurate biological model.