DOI: 10.1097/pxr.0000000000000302 ISSN: 0309-3646

Soft robotics–inspired sensing system for detecting downward movement and pistoning in prosthetic sockets: A proof-of-concept study

Adam J. Yu, Run Ze Gao, Peter S. Lee, Christian Mele, Doug Dittmer, Andreas Schirm, Carolyn L. Ren, James Y. Tung
  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)


Vertical displacement of the residual limb within transtibial prosthetic socket, often known as “pistoning” or downward movement, may lead to skin breakdowns and ulcers. Downward movement is particularly difficult to self-manage for diabetic individuals living with amputation because of diminished sensation in the residual limb from peripheral neuropathy. Therefore, a customizable sensor at the distal end that can alert the users when high-risk downward movement and pistoning occurs is urgently needed.


Presented herein for the first time is a lightweight, inexpensive sensing system inspired by soft robotics that can detect the occurrence and severity of downward movement at the distal end.


The sensing system consists of a multilayered torus-shaped balloon, allowing easy integration with pin-lock socket systems. The design allows sensing of vertical displacement without imparting high reaction forces back onto the distal end. A benchtop compression tester was used to characterize system performance. Systematic and parametric benchtop tests were conducted to examine the sensor’s physical characteristics. Long-term (24-h) stability of the sensor was also recorded.


Compared with water, air was determined to be a better medium with a higher linear full-scale span (FSS) because of its compressible nature. Repeatable 0.5-mm vertical displacements yielded a linear (>0.99 R2) FSS of 4.5 mm and a sensitivity of 0.8 kPa/mm. The sensing system is highly precise, with as low as 1% FSS total error band and average hysteresis of 2.84% of FSS. Over 24 h, a 4% FSS drift was observed.


Sensing system characteristics, coupled with low-cost, customizable fabrication, indicates promising performance for daily use to notify and alert transtibial prosthetic users of downward movement and/or pistoning.

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