Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Stuttgart and Medical Center at the University of Freiburg, Germany are preparing paralympic cycling athletes for the coming Rio games. They have built and are now using a special stationary cycling rig to help select and adjust prosthetic legs specifically for every cyclist. This is quite a bit more advanced than the current approach of athletes subjectively testing different legs and settings while a technician makes repeat adjustments.
The new system includes a simulator that can make predictions on how different prostheses will fit and how best to adjust their settings. It actually produces a set of recommendations that need to be tried out before making a final fit.
The athlete, while wearing the new prosthetic, takes a ride on the stationary cycle while a bunch of infrared cameras track the movement of markers stuck to numerous spots on the athlete’s body. Simultaneously, sensors on the pedals record how much force is actually applied to make the wheels spin. The measures are then compared to identify how efficient the transfer of energy happens from the athlete via the prosthetic and into the pedals. Additional adjustments and a few more spins on the cycle allow the team to zero-in on a perfect fit.
While the technology was developed for serious athletes, it certainly has a great deal of application for anyone using leg prostheses as even a casual rider would appreciate more comfort and better results from every ride.