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Electronic Enhanced Carpet Monitors Walking, Detects Falls

Enhanced carpet display system (University of Manchester)

Enhanced carpet display system (University of Manchester)

Researchers at University of Manchester in the U.K. added electronic optical fibers on the underside of carpets to monitor and detect changes in walking patterns that can lead to falls. Patricia Scully, who led the the interdisciplinary team from Manchester’s Photon Science Institute, reports the team’s findings today at the Photon12 conference at Durham University in the U.K.

As the society ages, concern is increasing about accidental falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say one of three adults over the age of 65 falls each year, causing moderate to severe injuries, such as hip fractures and head traumas. But a majority of the falls go unreported; CDC says less than half of falls by people age 65 or older are reported to their health care providers.

Scully and colleagues added thin optical fibers to the underside of carpets that bend when anyone steps on the carpet, and send signals to sensors at the edge of the carpet, which are relayed to a computer. Signals from the sensors can be displayed visually in real time — see photo at left — by mapping images with light propagating under the surface of the carpet, or analyzed later on.

The signals monitor walking patterns and can spot early signs of changes in walking behavior that indicate weakening or degeneration. The system can detect a person falling or tripping, as well as other drastic changes in conditions, such as chemical spills or fire.

“The carpet can gather a wide range of information about a person’s condition,” says Scully, “from biomechanical to chemical sensing of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that detects and responds to changes in patient condition.”

Scully — a lecturer in sensor instrumentation — adds, “The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living space to adapt as the occupiers, needs evolve,” a property that can be helpful to people as they grow older, as well as those with long term disabilities, “and incorporated non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress or wall that a patient interacts with.”

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