Getting a leg up: boffins develop seeing leg for blind amputee

The all-seeing leg can not only detect obstacles but can also judge distances. Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

Orthopaedic technicians from Rzeszów have developed a prosthetic leg for blind patient, which not only allows him to walk but also measures distance and warns him about any obstacles he could walk into.

Rzeszów Orthopaedic Works (Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne, RZO) designed and built the device especially for the man and donated it for free.

Tomasz Strugała with some RZO staff.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

Tomasz Strugała from Rzeszów, who has been blind for 10 years had to have his leg amputated above the knee but instead of being confined to a wheelchair, he decided to try his luck with an artificial leg. His story inspired the technicians from RZO, who looked for a solution to more than just one his problems.

The sensor is linked to a microphone that beeps when an obstacle is detected.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

“We only manufacture upper and lower limb prostheses and make over 400 a year,” Mariusz Grela from RZO told TFN. “After obtaining strict specifications, as a point of honour we focus on introducing innovative solutions good for the patient.”

Two of the technicians, Rafał Murias and Rafał Borkowski, came up with a device that similarities to a parking sensor in a car. The motion sensor uses two technologies: ultrasonic and laser to measure distances. Sensors are designed to detect an obstacle in front of the patient and determine the distance. 

RZO make up to 400 prosthetic limbs a year.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

Then, using encrypted radio communication, information about the obstacle is transmitted from the prosthesis to the receiver located on the patient's shoulder. There, based on sensory data, the microcomputer produces an audible sound through the loudspeaker. The acoustic signal is "beeping" with a frequency proportional to the distance, i.e. the closer the patient gets to an obstacle, the more frenetic the beeping becomes.

Strugała had been blind for 10 years before he had a leg amputated.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

After several trials, the sensor works perfectly, according to the needs of the patient. “The cooperation was also successful thanks to the fact that Mr. Tomek [Strugała] was brought to our workshop several times to test how it all works and willingly cooperated with our team,” added Grela.

The motion sensor uses two technologies: ultrasonic and laser to measure distances.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

This is not the first time the RZO technicians have shown their ingenuity and willingness to help. In the past, they have built prosthesis for an ostrich, three dogs and a pony, along with many other people like Tomasz Strugała, who needed specialized help and out-of-the-box solutions. Now they are working on prosthesis for a four-month old deer called Bambi, which will receive it in the spring once it has grown up a bit.

The acoustic signal is 'beeping' with a frequency proportional to the distance, i.e. the closer the patient gets to an obstacle, the more frenetic the beeping becomes.Rzeszowskie Zakłady Ortopedyczne

Asked why the technicians are involved in such projects, Grela answered: “We are always happy to help, it's easy. Good always comes back to you.” RZO promised that to make a motion-sensor equipped leg for free for any other blind amputee.