This post comes to us courtesy of two researchers at Brunel University, who are making innovative use of the Xbox Kinect to help with the early detection and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
Using Kinect to monitor and improve the mobility of Parkinson’s patients
Dr. Konstantinos Banitsas and Mr. Amin Amini Maghsoud Bigy, from the College of Engineering Design and Physical Sciences at Brunel University, have developed a state of the art system using Microsoft Kinect. The aim is to monitor Parkinson’s disease patients by detecting and monitoring their symptoms as well as improving their mobility.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively incapacitated. The brain’s nerve cells produce a vital chemical called Dopamine in order to be able to communicate with each other and send signals to their neighbouring nerve cells. This helps the brain to perform its important tasks such as controlling movement, motor functions and possibly other functions related to feeling and mood. The lack of Dopamine equilibrium in the brain can lead to brain disease and malfunction. Some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include the Freezing of Gait (FOG) as well as falling. During a FOG incident, the patients' muscles literally freeze in place as they attempt to walk.
Research so far has mostly used devices that are either worn or attached to patients in order to detect freezing and falling incidents. The research carried out at Brunel University employs an unobtrusive approach involving a very affordable sensor from Xbox Kinect while having no need for any device to be worn or attached to the patient. This allows for early symptoms to be detected and categorised, so help would be available at the early stages of the disease. For example, if a fall incident takes place, the system automatically contacts a predetermined person and initiates a teleconference application using the Kinect cameras.
Moreover, research showed that visual cues (projected lines) could help the unfreezing of the patient by prompting them to follow the next line ahead. The problem is determining where the patient is within a given space as well as their heading. This information is needed to be able to project the reference lines right in front of the patient’s feet.
Microsoft Kinect is an ideal tool for this. Coupled with a set of step motors and a microcontroller the Brunel University team managed to control the direction of a laser pointer projecting a set of lines on the floor only when a FOG episode is detected by the system. Essentially, Microsoft Kinect is used not only to detect the FOG episode but to identify where the patient’s heading is.
Pictures above show the development process of the prototype.
The system was tested on seven adult subjects (four males and three females aged between 21-32 years old) with different heights, body types, and walking styles. For this first test, healthy subjects simulated freezing, tremor and fall incidents while the system showed promising results. A collaboration with a local hospital is on the way to provide real patients that will be used to test the system.
Watch the system’s technical demo video from the link below: