A knee-ankle-foot orthosis (KAFO), which covers the knee, ankle and foot, can mitigate abnormal walking pattern caused by weak quadriceps. Several types of KAFOs are currently available in the market: passive KAFOs, stance-control KAFOs and dynamic KAFOs. In passive KAFOs, the knee joint keeps being locked during standing and walking, and can be unlocked manually to allow free rotation for sitting. Stance-control KAFOs (SCKAFOs) allow free knee motion during swing phase when the braced leg is unloaded. Dynamic KAFOs are able to reproduce normal walking ability throughout whole gait cycle. This research is directed at using superelastic alloys to develop a dynamic knee actuator that can be mounted on a traditional passive KAFO. The actuator stiffness can match that of a normal knee joint during the walking gait cycle. This proposed knee actuator utilizes a storing-releasing energy method to apply functional compensation to the knee joint, controlling the knee joint during both stance and swing phases. Fundamentally, the knee actuator is composed of two distinct parts which are connected with the thigh and shank segments, respectively. There are two superelastic actuators that are housed within these two parts and activated independently. Each actuator is developed by combining a superelastic rod and a rotary spring in series. When neither actuator is engaged, the knee joint is allowed to rotate freely. The stance actuator works only in the stance phase and the swing actuator is active for the swing phase. The conceptual design of the knee actuator is verified using numerical simulation and a prototype is developed through additive manufacturing for confirming the concept.

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