Perhaps adhering to the timeworn idiom that one can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, Vanderbilt University researchers purposely tripped people — 190 times — to generate stumble recovery data for use in Schematic of the stumble perturbation system. Source: Vanderbilt UniversitySchematic of the stumble perturbation system. Source: Vanderbilt Universitydesigning more stable prosthetic limbs.

Healthy subjects equipped with motion sensors participated by navigating a treadmill disguised as an obstacle course. A steel block was released onto the force-instrumented treadmill as a predictive targeting algorithm controlled the timing of the perturbation to the foot during the swing phase to render the encounter more realistic.

Each participant was tripped dozens of times and at different stages of their walking gait as a camera-based tracking system produced accurate models of how they were able to recover from near-falls. The data, available in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, will next be applied to the design of prosthetics that can respond to unexpected events and prevent falls for users. The research team plans to compare the stumble performance of commercially available prosthetics and those computer-programmed with the reflex data gleaned from the current study.

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