Measuring Gait Speed Passively to Diagnose Diseases

You may not realize it, but how fast a person walks is an important indicator of overall health. We all instinctively know that we lag noticeably when a cold or the flu hits, but monitoring gait speed can help diagnose a plethora of chronic diseases and conditions. Wearables like Fitbit would be one way to monitor gait speed, but the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT thinks there’s a better way:  a wireless appliance that measures gait speed passively.

CSAIL’s sensor, dubbed WiTrack (PDF), is a wall-mounted plaque that could be easily concealed as a picture or mirror. It sends out low-power RF signals between about 5- and 7-GHz to perform 3D motion tracking in real time. The WiTrack sensor has a resolution of about 8 cm at those frequencies. With their WiGait algorithms (PDF), the CSAIL team led by [Chen-Yu Hsu] is able to measure not only overall walking speed, but also stride length. That turns out to be critical to predicting the onset of such diseases as Parkinson’s, which has a very characteristic shuffling gait in the early phase of the disease. Mobility impairments from other diseases, like ALS and multiple sclerosis, could also be identified.

WiTrack builds on [Hsu]’s previous work with through-wall RF tracking. It’s nice to see a novel technique coming closer to a useful product, and we’ll be watching to see where this one goes.

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DARPA Plans To Begin Hacking Human Brains

So [DARPA] wants to start hacking human brains, With the help of the biomedical device center at the university of Texas in Dallas. This does sound a bit crazy but DARPA does crazy. Conspiracy theorists are going to have a field day with this one.

The initial plans to turn us all into mindless zombies seem to be shelved for now, however they are working on what they call Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), which they explain means using the body’s nervous system to enhance and speed up the learning process. This could be achieved by using a process known as ‘synaptic plasticity‘ which opens and closes the brains synapses with electrical stimulation. They hope that by tuning the neural networks responsible for cognitive function it will enhance learning. Let’s just hope they don’t turn any humans into DARPA falling robots.

I’m A Tricorder, Not A Doctor, Jim!

Machine learning and automated technologies are poised to disrupt employment in many industries — looking at you autonomous vehicles — and medicine is not immune to this encroachment. The Qualcomm Tricorder competition run by the X-Prize foundation has just wrapped, naming [Final Frontier Medical Devices]’s DxtER the closest thing available to Star Trek’s illustrious medical tricorder which is an oft referenced benchmark for diagnostic automation.

The competition’s objective was for teams to develop a handheld, non-invasive device that could diagnose 12 diseases and an all-clear result in 24 hours or less without any assistance. [Dynamical Biomarkers Group] took second place prize worth $1 million, with [Final Frontier Medical devices] — a company run by two brothers and mostly financed by themselves and their siblings — snagging the top prize of $2.5 million. DxtER comes equipped with a suite of sensors to monitor your vitals and body chemistry, and is actually able to diagnose 34 conditions well in advance of the time limit by monitoring vital signs and comparing them to a wealth of medical databases and encyclopediae. The future, as they say, is now.

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Air-Powered Wheelchair Goes Like The Wind

Electric wheelchairs are responsible for giving back independence to a great many people the world over. They do have their limitations, however, including long recharge times and a general aversion to large amounts of water. Being weatherproof is one thing, but taking one to a waterpark is another thing entirely. Fear not, for The University of Pittsburgh has the answer: the air-powered wheelchair.

Known as the PneuMobility project, the chair relies on a couple of compressed air tanks as a power source. They appear to be a of composite construction, which would cut down on weight significantly and help reduce risk of injury in the case of a failure. The air is passed through a system of valves to a special compressed air motor, allowing the user to control the direction of travel. Unfortunately details on the drive system are scant — we’d love to know more about the design of the drivetrain! Reportedly a lot of the components come from the local hardware store, though we haven’t seen a whole lot of compressed air drive motors on the racks of Home Depot/Bunnings/et al.

Range for the wheelchairs is listed as about 1/3 of an electric wheelchair but recharging compressed air takes minutes, not hours. Developed by the university’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, the wheelchair isn’t just a one off. There are plans to supply ten of the machines to the Morgan’s Wonderland amusement park to enable wheelchair users to share in the fun of the water park.

We’ve seen some great wheelchair hacks in the past, too – like this chair built specifically for the sand dunes! Video after the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Complete Suite Of Biomedical Sensors

The human body has a lot to tell us if we only have the instruments to listen. Unfortunately, most of the diagnostic gear used by practitioners is pricey stuff that’s out of range if you just want to take a casual look under the hood. For that task, this full-featured biomedical sensor suite might come in handy.

More of an enabling platform than a complete project, [Orlando Hoilett]’s shield design incorporates a lot of the sensors we’ve seen before. The two main modalities are photoplethysmography, which uses the MAX30101 to sense changes in blood volume and oxygen saturation by differential absorption and reflection of light, and biopotential measurements using an instrumentation amplifier built around an AD8227 to provide all the “electro-whatever-grams” you could need: electrocardiogram, electromyogram, and even an electrooculogram to record eye movements. [Orlando] has even thrown on temperature and light sensors for environmental monitoring.

[Orlando] is quick to point out that this is an educational project and not a medical instrument, and that it should only ever be used completely untethered from mains — battery power and Bluetooth only, please. Want to know why? Check out the shocking truth about transformerless power supplies.

Thanks to [fustini] for the tip.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Wearable Micro Pump Treats Your Fever for You

Would you strap a tiny pump to your body and let it dose you with medication based on your current vital signs? Most people wouldn’t, while some would appreciate the convenience, and many have no choice. [M. Bindhammer]’s 2017 Hackaday Prize entry, dubbed Sense-Aid, seeks to democratize the drug delivery process somewhat by building a sensor package linked to a tiny surface-mount pump into a single wearable device.

His chosen initial therapeutic area is fever, given that it’s easy to diagnose non-invasively with a simple thermistor and straightforward to treat with antipyretics like acetaminophen. Aside from the obvious regulatory hurdles such a device would face, he’s got a bunch of technical challenges to address. Surprisingly, sourcing a surface-mount pump is not one of them, although finding a medication to pump with it is. Anecdotally, a professor acquaintance of ours used to relate his sure-fire hangover cure: an aspirin tablet dissolved in the polar aprotic solvent dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and absorbed directly through the skin for immediate relief. The story may have been apocryphal, and it certainly sounds like a bad idea, but such solvents may be one way of pumping medications non-invasively.

Obviously, this is only a concept at this point, as [M. Bindhammer] hasn’t even built a prototype yet. But that’s exactly what the first phase of the 2017 Hackaday Prize is all about: Design Your Concept. It may seem like a crazy idea, but at least it’s an idea, and that’s the first step. Have you submitted your idea yet? There’s still plenty of time.

Easy-Peasy Heart Monitor

If you’re at all into medical hacks, you’ve doubtless noticed that the medical industry provides us with all manner of shiny toys to play with. Case in point is a heart-monitoring IC that’s so brand new, it’s not even available in all of the usual distributors yet. [Ashwin], who runs a small prototyping-supplies company, ProtoCentral, has been playing around with the new MAX30003 ECG chip, and the results look great.

The punchline is that the four-to-five dollar chip does everything for you, including analog filtering, wander removal, and even detecting the pulse rate. Using the chip is simple: you plug in two electrodes on one end, and you get the waveform data out over SPI on the other, with little or no work to do on the microprocessor side. The Arduino in the examples is just passing the SPI data straight to the laptop, with no processing going on at all.

[Ashwin] is selling these as breakout boards, but everything is open source, from the hardware to the GUI, so check it out if you’re interested in building your own. In particular, the circuit is just a voltage regulator and five volt level shifter.

Everything we know about electrocardiography projects, we learned from this presentation, and it looks like the devil is in the (many) details, so it’s nice to offload them to custom silicon whenever possible. We just think it’s awesome that we can scoop up some of the giant medical industry’s crumbs to play around with.