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NCSU developing prosthetic leg that 'listens'

Posted March 15, 2014
Updated March 16, 2014

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— Tom York has adapted since losing his right leg below the knee in a hunting accident.

“You just can’t do what you used to do, but you make things so you can get around,” York said. “Just like my shop here. Everything is where I can get at it.”

York wears a prosthetic leg and says most people don’t even realize it’s there.

“Some people are pretty amazed when I pull my pants leg up and show it to them. They’re like “ooh”’ he said.

North Carolina State University is developing a new prosthetic leg to help amputees like Tom. It’s called the “listening leg,” and it uses special sensors to interpret and respond to the patient’s intent to move.

The robotic leg is designed to mimic the motion of a natural leg.

Patients who have tested the prosthetic are impressed.

“Most of them like it because its power can provide them with more ability to negotiate on different terrain” said Fan Zhang, a doctoral student at NC State who is part of the research team building the device.

The team also is in the early stages of creating a prosthetic arm. The arm can grab and rotate just like a natural hand movement.

York is hopeful about the “listening” leg, but his type of injury requires something faster and easier to use.

York said he hopes one day to develop his own prototype, something that fits in a small box and is easy enough to assemble so missionaries and the military can pass it out to amputees around the world.

“For a man or a woman who’s always had to sit down because they’re missing a limb, that’s a big deal for them to stand up and face you” he said.

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