Technology and innovation for people

Research for quality of life

The world is changing. Digitalisation is becoming more important than ever. How can we turn what is technically viable into real progress? Something that maintains or restores people's mobility? That's what motivates our research and development - for over 100 years. For our users, patients and customers.

Artificial intelligence (AI) for intuitive movements

What tells a hand prosthesis how it should move? And how does it know whether to close the fingers tightly and carry a briefcase, or extend a finger and use a keyboard? In the past, people with an amputation had to intensively learn to give their prosthesis complex signals via muscle contractions. Today, prostheses learn from their users. Thanks to electrodes that capture bio-signals in the residual forearm and thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), Ottobock prostheses are able to identify how the user wants to move. The prosthesis then automatically assigns these signals to the correct hand movement.

Wolfgang using his arm prosthesis and Myo Plus pattern recognition as he feeds a calf a bottle of milk on his farm.
Myo Plus pattern recognition in daily life

Control via smartphone and app

Right from the start, O&P professionals use a special app when fitting and adjusting this type of prosthesis. After this, users can manage and practise controlling the prosthesis themselves on their smartphone.

And if they give their consent, devices can even be serviced via the cloud in future. The prostheses will then be able to send direct feedback to Ottobock so we can optimise the technology and avoid potential errors before they occur.

Smart sensors and microprocessors

Ottobock introduced the C-Leg – the world’s first leg prosthesis to be controlled by microprocessors – back in 1997. The experiences we gained in the process led to the introduction of the Genium in 2011. This solution simulates a natural, physiological gait almost perfectly with the help of microprocessors, microsensors and micromotors. This enables users to move with maximum safety, even on difficult surfaces.

Combined advances in computer, sensor and motor technology mean that users can now use the prostheses for running, cycling and swimming. Users can simply select the various modes; an app on their smartphone is one way of doing so. This demonstrates how digital transformation is opening up new opportunities. At the same time, it also creates new requirements – so a special coating on Ottobock’s bebionic hand prosthesis now makes it easy to interact with touchscreens on mobile phones or tablets.

Lina with her bebionic hand

The key thing is what helps people

A woman wearing a bebionic hand with Myo Plus prosthesis control presents her ideas on a magnet board.

Lina and the AI in her arm

Lina’s prosthesis learns from her: the Myo Plus control with pattern recognition uses eight electrodes to measure movement patterns in her residual forearm. Based on artificial intelligence, these are assigned to certain hand movements and grips. Tying shoelaces or turning a doorknob are just a couple of examples.
Close-up of a smartphone with an open app that is connected to the wearer’s hand prosthesis.

Wolfgang’s hand learns thanks to the app

The Myo Plus app helps Wolfgang control his prosthesis even more intuitively. While prostheses used to be something of an inscrutable “black box”, the app now makes the user’s individual movement patterns directly visible for the first time. This makes practising and adjusting them easier.
Two children and a woman with a leg prosthesis laugh as they walk a dog in a garden.

Kerstin’s prosthesis anticipates her thoughts

The Genium X3 gives Kerstin a nearly natural gait. The microprocessor-controlled prosthesis responds immediately and intelligently to any situation. This means Kerstin can be active along with her children; but most importantly, it means she can live her day-to-day life almost as she did before the amputation.
Two Ottobock employees treating a man. Using a device which is connected to a laptop on a small table next to the man, they measure the nerve cords in his amputated arm.

Thoughts move Tim’s arm

Tim can move his arm prosthesis via “thought signals” based on targeted muscle reinnervation. It took one operation and nearly two years of training to get this far. But now, when Tim thinks of making a fist, the corresponding muscle is activated and the associated signal closes the prosthetic hand.

How 3D scanners and printers are revolutionising treatment for patients

To this day, plaster casts are made to adapt prostheses to patients as effectively as possible. But 3D scanners offer a faster, more convenient option. Ottobock has set up a platform called iFab – short for “individual fabrication” – that makes it possible to quickly produce custom orthoses and prostheses.

O&P professionals scan a residual limb and then process the data directly on a computer. Time that was once spent on manual work on the plaster cast – often a complex task – can now be channeled into the fitting process. Sources of errors are also minimised, as the processed data can be tested in a computer simulation and transferred directly to the carving robot and 3D printer. iFab digitises the entire fitting and fabrication process. Throughout, the focus is always on working hand in hand to provide the best possible treatment for the patient.

The five steps of digital fabrication

Scanning

A scanner is used to record images of the relevant body part from all sides (360°). This method is quicker and more comfortable than a plaster cast.

Modifying

The O&P professional can edit the scan in the software to shape the device, depending on the treatment goal.
Image of a white foot orthosis that was fabricated using 3D printing.

Fabrication with 3D printing

The product is fabricated layer by layer in the 3D printer. This process is currently used to fabricate orthoses and helmets. However, it will also be possible to use the technology for prostheses in future.
A milling robot fabricating a model for producing a prosthesis, based on the design created on the computer.

Alternative: fabrication with a carving robot

A foam model is created. This is referred to as a “positive” and is in turn used as a template for fabricating a custom product.
An Ottobock employee fabricating a custom prosthesis with the help of the model produced via additive manufacturing.

Fabrication

The custom device is produced on the positive model.

Digitising a craft

The digital ecosystem in iFab not only places a stronger focus on patients’ needs and interests during treatment. It also makes the related administrative processes easier for medical supply companies and orthopaedic technology businesses. Instead of sending off plaster models by post, they now transmit their data to Ottobock digitally via an online platform (the iFab Customer Centre). Fabrication receives the paperless order directly. Our iFab now lets specialist orthopaedic companies meet two key requirements at once by quickly producing custom devices. We support them as they make the transition to a plaster-free workshop and give them the digital tools they need to use our global Ottobock iFab fabrication sites as their extended workbench.

More time for people

In orthopaedic technology, digital transformation is not so much a revolution as an evolution that is permanently changing the profession. In future, the craftsmanship element will play a somewhat less prominent role. In return, there will be an even stronger focus on caring for patients. The iFab platform provides, for example, a crucial new intermediate step in patient treatment – namely, simulation. Using patients’ biometric data, a computer can now be used to check, even before it’s fabricated, whether the fitting solution will work as intended. This makes fabrication more precise, minimises potential errors and saves materials and time. This time can in turn be dedicated to face-to-face patient care.

Exoskeletons for industry and everyday life

Ottobock doesn’t just help people regain their mobility. We also use our experience to keep people healthy. Based on our knowledge of biomechanics and orthopaedics, we developed an exoskeleton that helps people during strenuous activities by relieving strain. The Paexo Shoulder exoskeleton, for instance, supports the back and upper arms during overhead work – which is useful in the automotive industry or for painting work.

The biomechanical and orthopaedic expertise Ottobock has gained over the course of more than 100 years can also be seen in the C-Brace® orthosis. This exoskeleton can make walking possible again for people with partial or total paralysis of the knee extensors. It responds immediately and intelligently to critical situations. Users no longer have to pay attention to each and every step. The integrated microprocessor regulates the gait cycle on uneven terrain or slopes – and users can even walk down stairs step-over-step again with the C-Brace®.

Innovations that support people

Woman wearing a Paexo exoskeleton from Ottobock and working on a car jacked up in a workshop.

Working at VW with the Paexo Shoulder

The exoskeleton assists employees in production during strenuous activities, particularly overhead work. The weight of the raised arms is transferred to the hips with the help of mechanical cable pull technology. This provides noticeable relief for the muscles and joints in the shoulder region. The Paexo Shoulder does not need an energy supply. This makes it the lightest exoskeleton of its kind at just 1.9 kilograms.
A man wearing a C-Brace sitting beside a river and smiling into the camera.

David running with the C-Brace®

Around 100 times per second, sensors in the knee joint of the C-Brace® analyse how David moves his left leg. This information is then sent to microprocessors in the orthosis. Based on this data, the processors support David as he walks. Thanks to his C-Brace®, David can even go hiking in the mountains again.
Close-up of hands working on a car with the Paexo Thumb.

Paexo Thumb for healthy thumbs

This small and extremely lightweight exoskeleton relieves the thumb by up to 70 per cent during assembly tasks such as clipping, connecting and plugging – by redirecting forces to the entire hand. It takes strain off the interphalangeal and saddle joints of the thumb and protects the tip of the thumb against mechanical impact.