A long-standing goal of engineering is to exploit the unique designs of the body, to guide the development of anthropomorphic artificial appendages that exhibit humanlike stability, strength, and speed in a variety of natural environments. Although tremendous technological progress has been made since the days of the wooden peg leg, contemporary orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) limbs cannot yet perform as well as their biological counterparts, whether in terms of stability, fatigue-life or speed [Popovic and Sinkjaer, 2000]. However, in the next several decades, continued advances in human-machine neural interfaces, musclelike actuators, and biomimetic humanoid control schemes may result in dramatic improvements in the quality of life of the physically challenged. In this chapter, we review key research areas relevant to the O&P field. By way of case studies, we describe both artificial and actin-myosin–based muscle actuators, control methodologies that exploit principles of biological movement, and device architectures that resemble the body’s own skeletal design.We limit our discussions to external devices that attach to human arms and legs and are specifically designed for human rehabilitation. Orthoses that attach in parallel to human limbs for the treatment of limb dysfunction, and prostheses that attach in series to limbs for the treatment of limb amputation are described. After completing the chapter, you will know the brief history of O&P appendages, from the crude peg leg used by the Romans to contemporary microprocessor-controlled artificial limbs. You will also learn of research areas that are actively being studied that may prove critical to the next generation of O&P technology.
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