Researchers have developed a low-cost, wearable system, consisting of strain sensors made of conductive elastomers (CE) printed onto fabric, that holds great promise for remote monitoring and aiding clinical rehabilitation through physiotherapy exercises performed at home. A study of the prototype confirmed that human trunk movements could be monitored and classified by means of sensorized garments employing wearable CE strain sensors, according to results published Dec. 14 in BioMedical Engineering OnLine.
"So far we have only looked at trunk movements, which can be used to monitor flexibility and core stability," said Michelangelo Bartolo, who led the study by Italian neurorehabilitation researchers, according to an announcement. "This system is not aimed at high precision, but is an easy-to-use, inexpensive device, and is a real advancement in the development of portable, remote monitoring of rehabilitation."
For the study, a healthy subject wearing the sensors was used to collect a comprehensive set of 639 different movements at varying speeds and a number of repetitions over a range of movements. The wearable sensors, powered by a low voltage battery, were able to accurately measure movement and validate the results via a wireless inertial sensor containing triaxial accelerometers and magnetometers, which sent the data to a computer via Bluetooth.
"Wearable devices that monitor physiologic responses and interact with computer-based systems have the potential to increase recovery, as well as to promote personalized exercises and wellness regimens," the researchers said. "Sensorized garments could be used in home-rehabilitation settings, with the possibility to automatically classify motor tasks, providing immediate feedback to the patient, and store motor performance for further remote control by therapist."
In a related development, a University of Utah professor is developing a smartphone application that wirelessly tracks data from a smart shoe insole that could help correct walking problems for people with artificial legs, hip replacements and broken legs. Called the Rapid Rehab system, it utilizes a custom gel insole with force sensors, accelerometers and gyroscopes to detect a person's gait, monitoring each footstep and providing continuous real-time feedback as they walk. The system is more accurate than subjective observations by a physical therapist and gives users more feedback and control, which can lead to quicker results.