Gait analysis is useful in guiding treatment for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, pediatric cerebral palsy. Accurate gait measurements can also predict fall risk with older people and measure progress during lower-extremity rehab, according to the CDC. The current gold standard gait analysis protocol employs 3D optical motion capture (3DMC) systems. 3DMC requires expert technicians, expensive equipment, and ample space for the patient to walk with precisely placed markers. Some technologies use multiple Inertial measurement units (IMUs) or RGB cameras for gait analysis, but neither alternative method is as accurate as 3DMC.

Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science department of Science and Technology and the Prefectural University of Hiroshima are developing a new gait analysis method that uses multiple sensors. The research team combines data from a single small IMU (similar to the motion detectors used in smartphones) that is attached to a subject’s shoe, as well as from one RGB camera. The researchers published a study of the accuracy of the hybrid sensor method in Nature Scientific Reports. The test group included 16 healthy male subjects between 21 and 23 years old. The test methodology measures joint ankle kinematics in four gait conditions with varying speeds and foot progression angles. The research team compared the combined gait measurements of the RGB camera and IMU together to measurements using only the camera. The multiple sensor measurement method had significantly fewer errors than the RGB camera alone, according to the study report. The combined sensor measurements were also comparable to 3DMD gold standard testing.

In the report, the authors stated the study’s limitations. The test sample size was small and consisted of a single demographic group, who were also young and healthy. The tests didn’t account for different light conditions, type of clothing, or the effect on the results with people who use assistive devices. Because the combined sensor test results were a significant improvement over the single camera alone, however, the researchers suggested further studies that address the first study’s deficiencies. If the simple and inexpensive test can capture and analyze gait parameters reliably, improved accessibility should allow medical teams to help many more people.