Bionic Knee

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Monday, July 18, 2011 - 6:51am

A new bionic knee could improve the quality of life for amputees.

The Veterans Administration has been working with a New York company to come up with better prosthetic devices. Replicating the motion and mechanics of a prosthetic leg is a particularly difficult challenge. A new bionic knee that uses a small computer to control have been in the works and could dramatically improve the quality of life for those who use it.

And now, all that's easier for Mike Tallman thanks to what's called
the Genium Bionic Knee in his prosthetic leg. Mike's worn an array of prosthetics having lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident 25 years
ago while he was in the Army. But nothing, he says, has been as responsive
or stable as this microprocessor. He can walk over obstacles even
walk up the steps without having to drag his leg.

Mike says "it will sense that my foot like I used to."

Mike is one of six people worldwide who tested the Genium Bionic Knee
before it hit the market in June. He's a technician at Sampson Prosthetics
in Albany. Sampson makes the socket that fits onto the leg. The Genium
Knee, which is made by a German company, affixes to the socket.

As Bill Sampson explains, he can tweak the action of the knee in real
time as the computer talks to the unit via Bluetooth technology. There's also a sensor in the ankle, adding to the information.

Bill Sampson of Sampson Prosthetics says "the unit itself automatically adjusts to changes in terrain and weight. So if Mike carries something, the genium will accommodate that. All these real time adjustments make
the genium knee more stable than earlier computer driven prosthetics. Say, for instance, the knee just shuts down. It will actually send a signal to Mike through a vibration or just a sound and it will say it's going to go to sleep in a safe mode."

The Genium needs to be recharged every 5 days. It has a 7 year life
expectancy. At $60,000 to $80,000, it's pricey and it's not clear
if insurance will pay. But Sampson says the VA is. Three of the 12 people on Sampson's waiting list for the Genium are veterans.

Mike says "I'm just looking forward to putting miles on this thing and uh, to see how much better my life can get. Really."

Shortly before the knee was going to market, Mike noticed it was making a clicking noise. So back for some tweaking. When it was quiet, it was ready for sale.

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