Sun Xiaojun helps amputees with his robotic knee design that he himself wears. CHINA DAILY
Born in Shiqian county in Guizhou province, 34-year-old Sun Xiaojun used to be the naughtiest student in class. This changed after he broke an ankle and was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone, at the age of 9. His right leg later had to be amputated.
His family spent all of their money for the operation. The young man then made the decision to study hard.
In 2006, Sun enrolled at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, majoring in material forming and control engineering. In 2009, he won the opportunity to continue his studies at Japan’s Tohoku University. “I started to wear a prosthesis two years after I began studying in Japan. I had never worn one before, so it took quite a long time to get used to,” he said.
The experience wasn’t very comfortable. He would sometimes fall over when he tried to walk fast, which made him feel awkward. In 2013, he came up with the idea of creating a smarter prosthetic that used robotics.
In 2018, he founded BionicM in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to create inventions to help those with a disability. Sun’s robotic prosthetic knee earned him fame and won him the Red Dot Best of the Best award in 2020.
The biggest challenge in creating the robotic knee was how to coordinate between the body and the prosthetic. “Walking is an unconscious movement. It’s difficult to make prosthetics understand how that works,” Sun said.
Most artificial limbs on the market are made to work like bones and ankles. Sun’s invention, however, works like adding mechanical muscle.
“The prosthesis we’ve created has a mind of its own and allows people to move by sensing their intentions,” he said.
“I myself use a prosthetic limb, and I’m also a researcher. There are about 4 million people in China with amputated lower limbs,” he added. “The cost of an ordinary prosthesis is around 60,000 to 100,000 yuan, unaffordable for most.”
Sun said most prosthetics are produced in Europe. “I didn’t start my company for the money, but to make a product that is useful to society. Amputees have a basic need to walk,” he said.
According to Sun, the robotic knee his company produces is priced at around 300,000 yuan per pair, while similar products sold elsewhere average around 800,000 yuan.
Admitting that this is not ideal, he said that his robotic knees are still in small-scale production. He hopes that by raising more money, he’ll be able to expand production and make his devices more affordable.