Microprocessor-controlled (MPC) feet are a fairly new category of prosthetic components. These foot/ankle components have small computer-controlled sensors that process information from both the individual’s limb and the surrounding environment to adjust to various needs. Based on information from input signals, these processors apply an algorithm, or set of rules, to make decisions about how the ankle or foot should respond in any given situation. The microprocessor provides instructions to various parts of the prosthesis in order to produce the desired function of the foot. Current MPC ankles use a variety of sensors, including ankle angle sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes and torque sensors. The microprocessors in these systems then take the input signals and make decisions as to how to position the ankle, how to set the damping resistance in the ankle, and how to drive an ankle motor during stance phase (1).
The largest potential benefit of an MPC ankle/foot system over other prosthetic feet is the enhanced ability to react to varying environmental situations by providing different mechanical properties or alignments to improve the user’s balance and mobility. For example, non-MPC prosthetic feet work nicely on smooth, level terrain; however, they have a more limited ability to alter their mechanical properties or alignment when walking on slopes or other uneven surfaces. Powered feet provide propulsion during ambulation to enhance walking capabilities in real-time. Some specific models include software as well as options for connectivity to mobile devices through smart phone or computer apps. This allows the prosthetist and user to match the performance of the ankle/foot to various activities, allow for adjustments to the input gains and timing, and turn on or off certain features. All of these functions provide a more individualized experience by the user.
The ultimate goal of this class of prosthetic feet is to mimic the functions of the human foot. However, devices differ in their ability to accommodate for all environments and thus to the extent in which that accommodation can be achieved (2). Although these types of feet can coordinate the movements of the foot and ankle automatically, they do not directly communicate with the body. Microprocessor or powered prosthetic feet require batteries to power the chip, sensors, motors and actuators. Additionally, electronic parts associated with microprocessor systems make them more delicate than their passive counterparts. Many should not be used in water or in highly dusty or dirty environments. Due to the extra parts required by the addition of the microprocessor, they often weigh more than other prosthetic feet. Users may notice the mechanical clicks and sounds coming from the prosthesis as the microprocessor extrapolates information and adjusts various aspects of the ankle or foot. Finally, the higher level of technology and more intricate design of this class of prosthetic feet mean they may likely be the more expensive options on the market.