Dudley S. Childress, Ph.D.
The central theme of this session illustrates the way bioengineering, in its many disciplines, is impacting mobility in its many dimensions. Human mobility and the mobility of other biological organisms are being studied today on an unprecedented scale and the knowledge base that is developing will surely broaden the horizons of mobility engineering and movement science.
Advanced surgical procedures and the development of engineering materials that provide a high capacity for biological compatibility and integration with tissue of the human body have the potential to create revolutionary change in mobility aids such as limb prostheses and/or orthoses. Possibilities for direct skeletal attachment of prostheses have been demonstrated by the pioneering work of Professor P.I. Brånemark in Gothenburg, Sweden, first in dentistry, and later with orthopaedic implants. These issues, in several forms, are addressed by Dr. Richard Brånemark and Kevin Healy, Ph.D.
Rory Cooper, Ph.D. addresses human-machine integration of a different kind with his emphasis on the biomechanics and ergonomics of wheelchair design and use. Engineering and scientific knowledge of wheelchair principles and design is expanding very rapidly. The leading waves of change in wheeled mobility design have already been felt in the field and there is more to come.
Another body-machine system involves mechanisms that bear part of a person's weight so that he or she can carry out primitive walking patterns even when not being able to walk independently. These machines, as described by Dr. Bruce Dobkin, M.D., may be capable of assisting with retraining the central nervous system, strengthening muscles, and helping restore balance capacity; possibly assisting with the development of independent mobility.
The rate of improvement of mobility aids for persons who need them rests, to a great extent, on fundamental knowledge about mobility. A solid theoretical base is required for fast advancement. Passive and active walking machines (robots) present a unique viewpoint that may lead to deep understanding of human walking, just as airplane development provided insight to bird flight. Gill Pratt, Ph.D., a developer of walking robots, takes us on a short tour of this emerging discipline, with its possible applications to artificial legs and other mobility devices.