Description: BYU Mechanical Engineering and Exercise Science Professors design a mobile, inexpensive system for gait analysis.
Start: September 1, 2015
End: August 31, 2018
- Sponsor: National Science Foundation
- Principal Investigator: Anton Bowden
- Co-PIs: David Fullwood, Matthew Seeley
Although gait is commonly defined as the way a person walks, gait analysis studies more than just a person’s strides across the room. Gait laboratory systems measure whole body movement and force impacts. Additionally, gait analysis allows for diagnosis of certain medical conditions because of all of the factors which affect a person’s walk. BYU Professors Anton Bowden, David Fullwood, and Matthew Seeley, along with their research team of undergraduate and graduate students, seek to construct a mobile system for gait analysis. Traditional gait systems require a stationary laboratory, but the researchers are designing a new system which furthers the ability to perform gait analysis with the same accuracy and with less restrictions.
Current gait lab systems cost over several thousands of dollars and require many cameras and walkways synced up with computers. The gait system created by the researchers will be less than 1% of that cost. The cameras in the traditional lab are needed for analyzing overall movement, and the ground registers impact forces of the movement. Alternatively, the new system developed by the researchers contains wearable nano-composite sensors that are piezoresponsive. Nano-composite materials are those in which one of the dimensions of the composite material is less than 100nm. This is smaller than the wavelength of any color of light! The sensors consist of conductive particles which register and send electrical voltage signals to a microcomputer (which are received to a mobile device like a smartphone), measuring the impact and force of the subject’s movement.
Furthermore, the system will be mobile, allowing researchers to analyze movement in out-of-laboratory environments and situations. While the lab can only stage certain movements, the mobility of this new system will enable gait analysis to be performed during real-life activities without the need for many cameras or treadmills. To ensure that the new system has the same accuracy and capability of any traditional lab, the system will be tested and the sensors’ calibration improved by machine-learning algorithms.
The researchers’ ultimate goal is to create an inexpensive, mobile gait system for the public. Due to the substantial decrease in cost from previous systems, this research will enable more use and flexibility than gait labs have been able to achieve before. Since the cost of research using gait analysis technology will be significantly lessened, further discovery and opportunity for the field and in education will be broadened. Upon completion of the project, the researchers plan to donate at least 20 mobile gait systems to high school students pursuing projects in science and technology. Additionally, the applications of the developed sensor technology can be applied in many other fields. Such utilizations include more advanced airbag sensors and nano-composite sensors incorporated in clothing.