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New prosthetic leg may help amputee cyclists

A new prosthetic leg design specially designed for cyclists can help overcome some of the problems they face
A new prosthetic leg design specially designed for cyclists can help overcome some of the problems they face
Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Call me a sucker for a cool invention, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by a new prosthetic leg prototype designed to help amputees cycle more efficiently. And not only is it more efficient, it also looks really cool.

Seth Astle, a product design student from the Art Center of Design in Pasadena, California recently won the US division of the James Dyson Award. This year’s James Dyson Award competition had over 500 entries from eighteen countries, challenging students and recent graduates to solve an everyday problem in a creative way.

Seth’s prosthetic leg design will be featured in a display at the London 2012 Olympics and will then proceed to the international level of the competition.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Seth about the design and was impressed with his creativity in solving the major problems cyclists have with ordinary prostheses. According to Seth, there are three main problems for amputee cyclists:

Clipping in to the pedal – because amputees can’t feel when their foot is in the correct position to clip in, it is a difficult process. To solve this problem, Seth designed the prosthesis with a split toe design so cyclists can visually line up the prosthesis with the pedal, thus eliminating much of the hassle.

Dealing with the “dead zone” – amputees can only push down or pull up, which results in a lack of forward and backward movements. This creates a “dead zone” in the circular motion of pedaling. To compensate for this, the prosthetic has an elastomeric band that collects energy while riding, giving the cyclist added muscle strength. As the foot rotates, kinetic energy snaps the foot and leg back up and around to the top.

Unclipping from the pedal – once they are clipped in, amputees have a hard time releasing the foot. Typical pedals require a twisting motion from the ankle in order to unclip, a motion amputees can’t make. This makes sudden stops dangerous and amputees frequently fall over before they manage to unclip. This problem was solved by creating a different clip that is secure while pedalling forward, but releases with a backward motion.

Other entries included a high-altitude aerial vehicle powered by a helium balloon that can reach an altitude of 9.5 miles, an electronic device that can be strapped on the head of blind runners to allow then to run the 100-meter dash, and an inexpensive and simple prosthetic arm that can be fit onto an amputee in less than ten minutes.

Read more about the James Dyson Award competition at


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