Innovative UK prosthesis design up for MacRobert Award

Advanced prosthesis engineering made headlines recently when the judging panel from the Royal Academy of Engineering named the Blatchford Linx limb as one of three finalists for the 2016 MacRobert Award.

First presented in 1969, the MacRobert Awards is the UK’s longest running and most prestigious national prize for engineering innovation.

Basingstoke-based Blatchford has developed the first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot; a system in which the parts work together like a human leg, balancing energy, posture and sensation for a much more natural walking experience.

The smart robotics in the Linx limb system constantly monitors and adapts to movements and automatically adjusts to the environment. This enables amputees to walk confidently, knowing that the limb will be at the right speed and support level at all times. It also senses when a wearer has come to a standstill, and automatically locks to allow them to relax, alleviating some of the backpain that prosthesis wearers commonly experience.

‘We use a whole array of sensors to sense the environment,’ explains Blatchford technical director Sayeed Zahedi, ‘whether the person is standing, sitting, walking on the flat, going up or down a ramp, or up or down stairs. We can then use information from those sensors that are measuring the ankle function to instruct the knee, and use the knee sensors to instruct the ankle, so there is a continuous dialogue between the two joints.”

While Blatchford’s engineering breakthrough is at the cutting edge of prosthesis design, it is expected this first-of- its-kind design will bring benefits to landmine victims in the long term.

Find A Better Way CEO Lou McGrath is enthusiastic about what the Linx limb’s innovations will mean for prosthesis design for landmine victims in years to come. ‘Prosthesis design has advanced hugely in recent decades,’ he explained, ‘and wearers in developed countries will often own multiple prostheses with different designs and levels of resistance for different types of activities. In poorer countries this isn’t always an option, and landmine victims are typically limited to a single prosthesis.

‘Blatchford’s new Linx limb may be beyond the budget of most healthcare systems in the developing world, but it nevertheless points the way to a new type of prosthesis technology that will provide all the benefits of multiple devices into a single, affordable unit. This will help landmine victims live a normal, fully-productive life, which in turn will help war-torn regions recover more quickly.’

Find A Better Way currently funds research into affordable prostheses through a partnership with the Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College London. This project will initially deliver a socket-and- knee mechanism that is low-cost, able to be manufactured locally, and is easy to maintain. It is hoped future generations of FABW-funded prosthesis designs will incorporate smart robotics along the lines of Blatchford’s innovations.

‘We are delighted Blatchford’s work in prosthetic design is being recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering,’ McGrath added, ‘ and we wish them the best of luck when the winner is announced on 23 June.’

The image of model Jack Eyers wearing the Linx limb is used with kind permission of Blatchford Group.