Oscar Pistorius and the art and science of engineering

5 October 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — When South Africa double amputee Oscar Pistorius
sprinted into history at the 2012 London Olympics, he had a lot of people to thank for the blades propelling him down the track. One is a San Diego-area engineer he’s never met: Hilary Pouchak.

Pouchak is among a small group of engineers–throwbacks, almost, to
an age of guild craftsmen–who pioneered the use of carbon fiber blades used for lower-limb amputees like Pistorius, whose nickname is the Blade Runner.
No electromechanical designs with force sensors and gyros. Just carbon blades using energy-storage potential principles.

“Using energy storage lower limb prosthetics is fundamental in bringing back something that’s been lost from that individual,” said Pouchak, whom I met during the Littelfuse Speed2Design event in Fontana in September.

Controversy has surrounded Pistorius because of the Flex-Foot Cheetah
blades, a situation that strikes many observers as absurd since the devices
allow a man who otherwise wouldn’t be able to even walk to run really,
really fast.

Scientific American wrote:

One of the biggest points of contention is limb-repositioning time. The average elite male sprinter moves his leg from back to front in 0.37 second. The five most recent world record holders in the 100-meter dash averaged 0.34 second.
Pistorius swings his leg in 0.28 second, largely because his Cheetah’s are lighter than a regular human leg. Pistorius’s
rivals are swinging a lower leg that weighs about 5.7 kilograms,
whereas his lower leg only weighs 2.4 kilograms.

(During the London Olympics, Pistorius finished last in the 400-meter
semifinal, and his South African relay team finished eighth in the 4 x 400-meter relay. The sprinter was caught up in controversy a month later during the Paralympics when he complained about a competitor’s longer blade design).

Pouchak doesn’t get caught up in the controversy. Rather, like any
good engineer, he views the design challenge as a series of tradeoffs. What’s good and cost-effective for lower-limb amputees
isn’t necessarily the right solution for upper-limb amputations, for example. What works for certain types of amputations doesn’t always work for others.

Here’s Pouchak, trackside in Fontana, talking about the art, science and engineering that makes Oscar Pistorius run:

Leave a Reply

*Required

* * *
CAPTCHA Image

*

New Products From Avnet

  • HP 3PAR StoreServ 7000

    The world’s most advanced storage platform has extended its midrange offerings, delivering effortless, efficient, bulletproof, and future proof storage to the entire midrange. Store all of your data on a single system that supports advanced features, such as storage federation and automated tiering, and which enables you to start small and grow without disruption.

  • Advantech RISC Computing Platforms

    UBC-DS31 is powered by a Freescale ARM Cortex-A9 i.MX6 dual core processor, with 1GB DDR3 memory & 4GB flash onboard. It has 2D and 3D graphics built in, and supports dual displays with up to 1080p high resolution output on low power consumption.

The Way Back Machine

The Way Back Machine

Connect With Us

Find us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

SELECT id,views_count FROM wp_bs WHERE bs_date='2014-04-24' AND bs_post_id=8140