A consortium of University of Virginia researchers is developing a wireless body sensor network system that monitors gait.
Once finished, it could be used to prevent elderly people from falling and injuring themselves.
The university researchers are working with AFrame Digital, a health monitoring and medical alert products company, which will soon be providing the wearable sensors to residents of some long-term care facilities.
By wirelessly connecting to a network set up by AFrame Digital, the sensors will provide researchers with real-time data on the nursing-home residents’ gaits.
Using this information, the researchers aim to commercialise a product that will eventually allow geriatricians to accurately assess gait problems and provide intervention before a fall happens.
John Lach, an associate professor in the Charles L Brown Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been researching and developing wireless body sensors for the past five years. Using parameters determined in a gait laboratory directed by D Casey Kerrigan, a professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Lach’s sensors can quantitatively measure the walking patterns that are likely to lead to falls.
The sensors themselves can measure and transmit data on a wide range of human motions, including linear acceleration (or how fast patients move in a straight path) and rotational rate, which together provide six degrees of freedom motion capture.
Currently, monitoring gait-related problems typically requires that patients visit a healthcare facility, where they walk on a pressure-sensitive treadmill and are monitored by video cameras. While accurate, this approach is costly and limited in its application.
While the current project focuses on gait problems in the elderly, the same technology could potentially be used by the military to monitor and analyse soldiers’ movements in combat situations.