Kinect hacked to allow Parkinson's sufferers to walk the line

Amin Amini Maghsoud Bigy and Dr Konstantinos Banitsas with the Kinect modified to help Parkinson's patients overcome Freezing of Gait

Most will be familiar with the telltale shaking of Parkinson's disease, but that isn't the only symptom sufferers must endure. They must also contend with what is known as Freezing of Gait (FOG), where the sufferer's muscles can freeze mid-stride, making them feel like their feet are glued to the ground or resulting in them falling over. Researchers at Brunel University London have hacked a Kinect sensor to overcome this.

Research has previously shown that a dot or lines projected onto the ground in front of Parkinson's sufferers can provide a visual cue that helps them "unfreeze" the muscles and devices have been developed to take advantage of this. However, these currently take the form of devices incorporate motion sensing technology that need to be worn.

Now Dr Konstantinos Banitsas and PhD candidate Amin Amini Maghsoud Bigy have taken a different approach. They have hacked Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor, teaming it with a ceiling-mounted laser to create a system that can be installed into a patient's home. When the system detects a FOG incident, the ceiling laser projects lines onto the floor to counter the muscle freezing. Additionally, if the person falls, the system will automatically trigger a video call for help.

"By mounting the laser guide marker on the ceiling it can provide the visual clues in any direction," says Dr Banitsas. "And it is only activated when a FOG incident occurs instead of having to be worn constantly."

Dr Banitsas adds that system has passed the proof of concept stage and he and Bigy are set to begin patient trials shortly.

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