Bipedal walking is a bit of a miracle. Just ask anyone who has tried to program a robot to perform a human-style gait. There’s the problem of balancing on one foot while the other sweeps forward, as your body weight shifts from the heel of your foot to the toes. It takes a lot of different sets of muscles all firing in the right sequence to make it all work. And all this makes it difficult to diagnose and treat the causes when a patient has problems walking.
BTS Bioengineering is a company that specializes in creating sensor systems to help with medical diagnosis and rehabilitation, especially involving walking. One of their systems is the BTS Freewalk, which consists of a series of wireless sensors that you attach to different points on your legs. These battery-powered sensor packages include typical inertial movement tracking components: 3-axis accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes. However, they go one step further; electrodes provide electromyography (EMG) to track when different muscles actually fire. Combined, this provides a rich set of data that can be used to analyze a subject’s walking gait, free from any wires or other encumbrances. The data is transmitted to a computer where it is analyzed and reported. This information can be used to diagnose or guide treatment.
This same technology could be used to track other muscle groups to diagnose and treat problems with coordinated movement. It is also likely that later iterations of these devices could be even smaller, and perhaps use energy harvesting to augment or replace the batteries. This could provide healthcare professionals a way to track a patient’s motion throughout routine daily activities, which would likely lead to even more efficient treatment and better outcomes.