Using Data Science to Increase the Usability of Prosthetics

Authored by Ayesha Rajan, Research Analyst at Altheia Predictive Health


Prior to its merge with the field of technology, most prosthetics existed for the purpose of aesthetics and balance but were not functional. However, utilizing new developments in computer engineering and data science has dramatically changed the abilities of prosthetics. Now, prosthetic limbs can help those who need them improve their walking patterns or even hold items. We currently see around one million new amputees daily and that, combined with a proven lack of disability accommodation globally, shows us that there is an important need to continue developing improvements for prosthetics. 


As we have mentioned in previous articles, artificial intelligence and machine learning have demonstrated immense capabilities for image recognition. The codes behind the logic that helps these tools distinguish between certain objects is vital to the usability of prosthetic hands and arms. At Newcastle University further research is being performed to see how to improve this process but the technology is already proven – prosthetic hands/arms can be implemented with technology that helps distinguish between objects in order to help the prosthetic hold or handle the object better. For example, one would hold a teacup differently than a brick so knowing how to, not only tell them apart, but how to handle them differently can make a huge difference to those who need support in that area. 

For those with lower body amputations, the biggest struggle is often in how to walk. Without the ability to walk, many amputees see themselves struggling with several new health issues – lack of exercise can lead to complications like diabetes and heart disease, which also leads to decreased quality of life. Thus, it is highly important for amputees to be able to walk but walking with a struggling gait or unevenly distributed weight can lead to muscle and nerve issues that need to be avoided. Companies like ReWalk are coming out with smart prosthetics that analyze walk patterns and adjust the prosthetics accordingly to improve the impact and smoothness of how its user walks. 


The fact that this technology exists is amazing in its potential to positively impact millions of people. However, the next step is to make this technology as widely available as possible which means that it needs to clear clinical and regulatory steps so that it can be approved to use by insurance providers. As we look at the legislatures and processes involved in approving new medical technology, it is important to remember that technology is moving at a faster pace than ever and, in general, a lot faster than government processes often happen. Ensuring that technology like this can be available to consumers as soon as possible though, is vital to improving the quality of life for those who need these tools.