New project on intelligent prostheses

The aim of the INOPRO project is to develop intuitively controllable prostheses which adapt to the needs of their users. ITAS supports the innovation process and analyzes the ethical, legal, and social dimensions of this technology.
Photo: Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH

Henceforth, ITAS and the KIT’s Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics will participate in the development of new individually adaptable prostheses and orthoses within the “INOPRO – Intelligent Orthotics and Prosthetics” project. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Lead-managed by Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of prostheses and orthoses, intelligent devices are developed which can – in contrast to current products – adapt to the needs of their users and be controlled intuitively.

As “feeling prostheses” they will be able to use a new kind of interface to impart tactile signals to the patients and provide them with a sensory feedback. Another aim is to develop especially light and quiet systems which improve the quality of life of their users.

Non-technical technology questions

But what does quality of life mean in this context? How do improved features influence the perception and acceptance of prostheses among affected persons and their social environment? Is a fair allocation and supply possible in the light of the expected high costs? “Many questions in the context of new technological solutions go beyond the pure problems of engineering sciences”, explains Christopher Coenen, head of the sub-project ELSI at ITAS. He and his work group deal with ethical, legal, and social implications of technology in this project, including the very diversified user expectations. “Our work”, says Coenen, “should contribute to a responsible innovation process where the users of prostheses are in the end able to use a technology that they really want”.

ITAS focuses on the advanced human-machine interfaces which will be used in INOPRO for the exchange of signals between the prosthesis and its user. Here the ITAS team will also analyze to which extent these invasive approaches contribute to a mechanization of human beings, which is controversially discussed, especially in non-medical contexts.

INOPRO is one of two flagship projects of the BMBF research program “Bringing technology to the people” where academic research institutions co-operate with companies to find innovative solutions for interactive medical technology. Until 2021, it is funded with almost 10 million Euros. (14.03.2017)

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