This paper presents the design and validation of a novel lower-limb prosthesis called the Variable-Stiffness Foot (VSF), designed to vary its forefoot stiffness in response to user activity. The VSF is designed as a semi-active device that adjusts its stiffness once per stride during swing phases, in order to minimize size, mass and power consumption. The forefoot keel is designed as an overhung composite beam, whose stiffness is varied by moving a support fulcrum to change the length of the overhang. Stiffness modulation is programmed in response to gait characteristics detected through foot trajectory reconstruction based on an embedded inertial sensor. The prototype VSF has mass of only 649 g including the battery, and build height of 87 mm. Mechanical testing demonstrated a forefoot stiffness range of 10-32 N/mm for the prototype, a threefold range of stiffness variation. The stiffness range can be altered by changing the keel material or geometry. Actuation testing showed that the VSF can make a full-scale stiffness adjustment within three strides, and tracks moderate speed-driven variations within one swing phase. Human subjects testing demonstrated greater energy storage and return with lower stiffness settings. This capability may be useful for modulating prosthesis energy return to better mimic human ankle function. Subjective feedback indicated clear perception by subjects of contrasts among the stiffness settings, including interpretation of scenarios for which different settings may be beneficial. Future applications of the VSF include adapting stiffness to optimize stairs, ramps, turns, and standing.
Sign-in or become an IEEE member to discover the full contents of the paper.