All hardware and software that is developed can be categorized as either open source or proprietary. If something is proprietary, that means the resulting product can be sold or be given away for free , but that the underlying code or design isn’t made accessible. While specific licenses do vary, “open source” broadly means that anyone can access the code and design. That allows people to modify it as they see fit, which helps to fuel research, development, and ultimately advancement. Now a team of researchers are making their robotic prosthetic leg open source in order take advantage of collaborative research.
If you’re doubtful about the power of making a design open source, just look at the success of the Linux operating system. It has managed to match the capability of proprietary operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, for decades. Notably, room has been left for corporations to profit as well, as is the case with Red Hat. Simply put, everyone can benefit from the open-source philosophy. In this case, those who live with physical disabilities can benefit thanks to researchers from the University of Michigan and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab releasing their Open Source Bionic Leg.
While this leg isn’t necessarily doing anything that hasn’t be done before, it does take advantage of modern, readily-available hardware. That includes a Raspberry Pi board to run the artificial intelligence control software, which helps reduce the costs. A complete bionic leg would reportedly cost just $28,500. The beauty of this release, however, is that the design can be refined by other academic researchers and professional roboticists, and even by amateur hobbyists. That could dramatically reduce the cost of the leg, improve its performance, and even spawn derivative prosthetics such as bionic arms. Most development in this arena is proprietary, but the Open Source Bionic Leg team believes that opening up development is the best way forward — and we certainly agree.