Measuring Walking Speed Wirelessly

There are a lot of ways to try to mathematically quantify how healthy a person is. Things like resting pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygenation are all quite simple to measure and can be used to predict various clinical outcomes. However, one you may not have considered is gait velocity, or the speed at which a person walks. It turns out gait velocity is a viable way to predict the onset of a wide variety of conditions, such as congestive heart failure or chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease. It turns out, as people become sick, elderly or infirm, they tend to walk slower – just like the little riflemen in your favourite RTS when their healthbar’s way in the red. But how does one measure this? MIT’s CSAIL has stepped up, with a way to measure walking speed completely wirelessly.

You can read the paper here (PDF). The WiGate device sends out a low-power radio signal, and then measures the reflections to determine a person’s location over time. Alone, however, this is not enough – it’s important to measure the walking speed specifically, to avoid false positives being triggered by a person simply not moving while watching television, for example. Algorithms are used to separate walking activity from the data set, allowing the device to sit in the background, recording walking speed data with no user interaction required whatsoever.

This form of passive monitoring could have great applications in nursing homes, where staff often have a huge number of patients to monitor. It would allow the collection of clinically relevant data without the need for any human intervention; the device could simply alert staff when a patient’s walking pattern is indicative of a bigger problem.

We see some great health research here at Hackaday – like this open source ECG. Video after the break.

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“Look Ma, No Gyros!”: A Self-Balancing Mechanical Velociraptor

You’ve got to walk before you can run, right? Perhaps not, if this bipedal dino-like running robot is any indication.

Officially dubbed a “Planar Elliptical Runner,” the bot is a test platform for bipedal locomotion from the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. Taking inspiration from the gait of an ostrich — we think it looks more like a T. rex or velociraptor, but same difference — [Jerry Pratt]’s team at IHMC have built something pretty remarkable. Contrary to all the bipedal and quadrupedal robots we’ve seen, like Boston Dynamics’ Big Dog and PETMAN, which all fairly bristle with sensors and actuators, the PER is very stripped down.

A single motor runs the entire drive chain using linkages that will look familiar to anyone who has taken an elliptical trainer apart, and there’s not a computer or sensor on board. The PER keeps its balance by what the team calls “reactive resilience”: torsion springs between the drive sprocket and cranks automatically modulate the power to both the landing leg and the swing leg to confer stability during a run. The video below shows this well if you single-frame it starting at 2:03; note the variable angles of the crank arms as the robot works through its stride.

The treadmill tests are constrained by a couple of plastic sheets, but the next version will run free. It’s not clear yet how directional control will be achieved, not is it obvious how the PER will be able to stop running and keep its balance. But it’s an interesting advance in locomotion and we look forward to seeing what IHMC’s next trick will be.

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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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Hackaday Prize Entry: Piezo Gait Analysis

Go into a fancy drug store, and you might just find one of the most amazing sales demonstrations you’ll ever see. Step right up, take your shoes off, and place your feet onto the magical Dr. Scholl’s machine, and you’ll get a customized readout of how your feet touch the ground. As an added bonus, you’ll also get a recommendation for a shoe insert that will make your feet feel better and your shoes fit better.

There is, of course, one problem with this setup. You don’t stand on a footprint measuring device all day. A better solution to the problem of measuring how your feet hit the ground is doing it while you walk. That’s where [chiprobot]’s Alli-Gait-Or Analysis comes in. It’s that Dr. Scholl’s machine tucked into the sole of a shoe. It can be worn while you walk, and it can tell you exactly how your feet work.

[chiprobot]’s robotic shoes consist of a 3D printed insert that holds eighteen piezo transducers per shoe. These are connected to ADCs, which feed into a microcontroller which sends the data out to a computer. That’s simple enough, but making sense of the data is the real problem.

To turn this data into something that could be used for selecting orthotics or simply finding a better shoe, [chiprobot] is plugging this data into Blender and creating some very cool visualizations. It’s good enough to get some serious data off a shoe, and since this Alli-Gait-Or is wearable, the data is much more valid than a machine sitting in a drug store.

A Hexapod Robot Made from Scrap


Many if not most good hacks come from scrap or unused parts, but this hexapod robot takes it to a new level. [Helmut] wrote in to tell us about his ‘bot built from discarded electronics. As with most of the little walkers that we’ve featured here, this robot features some basic obstacle avoidance with a sensor array on the head unit.

The way the head controls this robot is really the interesting thing about this setup.Rather than send a signal to tell servo motors to walk in a certain gait, the head physically tilts in the direction that it should go. Although it’s somewhat hard to tell, it appears that a driving motor in the head assembly pushes a sort of camshaft down into the body. This is then mechanically coupled to the legs causing it to walk in the correct direction.

Be sure to check out the videos after the break, featuring narration by a computer in English, or by a human in German if you happen to sprechen sie Deutsch. Continue reading “A Hexapod Robot Made from Scrap”

Learning to walk, a tutorial on making bipeds walk

[Robert Lam] has produced a number of video tutorials, his latest being a tutorial on how to make a biped robot walk. He is mainly covering the individual motions and actions. He doesn’t go into any specific programming, but rather breaks down the act of walking into several motions and discusses the reason you need them as well as some variations. For some this will seem like obvious observations, but we’ve seen plenty of biped robots that attempt to walk without shifting their weight.You can watch this video after the break, but be sure to dig around in some of his other tutorials for plenty of good stuff.

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5 legged locomotion

When designing legged robots, we generally see an even number of legs. Mainly, we think, it is due to us modelling things after nature. But with robotics, you’re free to do whatever you want. [Iketomu-san] has built this unsettling 5 legged robot out of parts he had lying around. The gait is fairly interesting. He mentions that it could be used for robot fighting, where the odd leg would serve as a prop from behind and the two legs up front could be weapons. What kind of gait or use can you come up with for this thing?