Prosthetics specialist Blatchford has been awarded the MacRobert Award – the UK’s top innovation prize – for the development of the world’s most advanced prosthetic limb.
Basingstoke-based Blatchford, which was up against Jaguar Land Rover and MRI scanner pioneers Siemens Magnet Technology, has developed the first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot; a system in which the parts work together like a human leg.
The Linx Limb System uses a network of sensors across both the knee and foot, which act like human nerves, continuously collecting data on the user, activity, environment and terrain.
When a patient is first fitted with the Linx, a clinician programmes its central computer by running through a calibration sequence so that the limb learns how its wearer naturally walks and adapts accordingly. This is done via a Bluetooth connection to a software app that shows in real time what the sensors are picking up as it detects the wearer’s natural speed and movements. A smart algorithm then calibrates the limb automatically in one simple step as the knee and the foot joints 'talk' to each other; previous prosthetics would require each joint to be calibrated in turn in a lengthy process that would often require repeat adjustments.
The winners of the award, which is run by the Royal Academy of Engineering with support from the Worshipful Company of Engineers, receive a gold medal and a £50,000 prize.
Dr Dame Sue Ion, chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “Blatchford has combined a compassionate approach to patient needs with huge ambition and exceptional systems engineering. In doing so, it has created the first-ever integrated lower limb that behaves like a human leg, and produced a platform technology that signifies the beginning of the next generation of prosthetics.
“Commercially, Blatchford also demonstrates outstanding success exporting globally while keeping its manufacturing base here in the UK. The Linx is helping patients throughout the world by empowering them with the freedom to tackle a much greater variety of terrains with confidence, and reducing the discomfort and costs associated with the problems of wearing prosthetics. The team behind this incredible innovation are true role models who show the positive impact that engineering can have on society.”
The Blatchford team was made up of: technical director Professor Saeed Zahedi, sensior control engineer Nadine Stech, principal electronic engineer Andy Sykes, principal mechatronic engineer Dr David Moser, and senior mechanical engineer Rob Painter.