In human walking, the ankle plays an important role of supplying power needed for the forward motion [1]. However, traditional transtibial (TT, a.k.a. below-knee, BK) prostheses are passive, lacking the ability of generating power output in the prosthetic ankle. Consequently, amputees fitted with such prostheses suffer from multiple issues (asymmetric gait, greater metabolic energy expenditure, etc.).

To address such issues, researchers have explored various technical approaches to develop powered TT prostheses. Hydraulics and pneumatics have been attempted, leveraging the high power density with these actuators (e.g. [2]). Electromagnetic actuators were used more extensively with its technological maturity and convenience in packaging. Typical examples include the multiple prototypes developed by the MIT Biomechatronics Group (e.g., [3]), the SPARKy project, and the Vanderbilt Transtibial Prosthesis.

The TT prostheses mentioned above all include powered ankle joints to provide power for the users’ locomotion. However, cost and complexity are often given lower priority than performance in the development of such devices. Powered TT prosthesis is a typical low-volume product from a commercial perspective, and the resulting high cost is a major hurdle for the large-scale adoption among amputee users. General robotic components (motors, gearsets, etc.), in contrary, are produced in large quantities with relatively low prices. Such contrast is the major inspiration for this work: the goal is to develop a modular powered TT prosthesis based on low-cost commercial robotic components while minimizing the complexity in manufacturing and assembly.

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