The application of real-time biomechanical feedback to develop a novel, real-time system to monitor the risk of falls

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Engineering Computer Science and Maths


The aim of this exciting doctoral programme is to validate an emerging new technology whereby risk of falls could be assessed much more reliably by employing first principles of body stability and using wearable inertial measurement units (IMUs) on human test subjects. The multidisciplinary supervisory team includes expertise in engineering (human motion and ground reaction forces) and physiotherapy.
Falls affect a third of older people and have significant personal and financial costs to individuals and the NHS in the region of £2.3 billion per annum.
Measurements from the IMU will be coupled with personalised anthropometric model of the the wearer's kinematics and kinetics while moving. The result of this will be a continuously calculated set of dynamic forces, including triaxial ground reaction forces acting on the human body (including tracking centre of pressure and centre of mass) which, when out of balance, cause loss of body stability and falling. Similar to 'flight envelope' describing conditions leading to loss of flight stability of an aircraft, 'fall envelope' will be developed describing conditions leading to loss of moving body stability. Tracking real body motion and balance of all forces acting on it will then be used to monitor continuously how close human body is to this envelope i.e. to falling throughout the day. This will then provide a novel risk assessment tool for falls, possibly implemented as a mobile phone app which can be used by a patient, carer or physiotherapist to, for example, evaluate the need for and effects of treatment, rehabilitation, etc.
Risk of falling is currently based on clinical (rather than real life environment) assessments involving tests such as balance. These are, however, highly subjective, short-term and do not provide a continuous measure over a period of time during normal daily activities in a normal environment. Being better able to assess risk of falling for individuals may aid physiotherapists to individuall tailor exercise programmes, taking into consideration individual impairments as well as how these are affected by realistic environmental factors.
The EPSRC DTP-funded doctoral student will apply and extend IMU-based gait measurement technology to the case of instability of human participants using approved clinical test protocols, with the opportunity to work with older people and patients, engineers and physiotherapists.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509656/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1784418 Studentship EP/N509656/1 01/10/2016 31/03/2020 Mubarak Patel