Microsoft’s Kinect Finds New Life Helping Parkinson’s Patients

A team at Brunel University London has developed a new system, which helps people with Parkinson’s disease overcome debilitating walking problems.

In another novel use of Microsoft’s now-obsolete Kinect hardware, the system closely monitors and detects freezing of gait (FOG) in patients - a condition of Parkinson’s where sufferers feel ‘glued to the ground,’ as their lower half is stuck.

The research, supported by Parkinson’s UK, was unveiled in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, and is ready to be further developed and installed into patients’ homes.

FOG4Kinect-920x540.jpg

“Freezing of gait is one of the most disabling symptoms in people with Parkinson’s, affecting its sufferers by impacting their gait performance and locomotion,” said Dr Amin Amini, a researcher from Brunel’s Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering, who lead the research.

“It is an episodic phenomenon that prevents the initiation or continuation of a patient’s locomotion, and it may lead to a loss of independence or frequent falls.”

So, how does it work? 

The various sensors on the Kinect work to monitor patient leg movements in their own home - specifically the angle of the knee and head direction. Once FOG is detected, the system casts two laser lines on the floor, perpendicular to where the patient is facing. This is a handy visual cue that stimulates moment and helps the patient relieve their gait.

FOG-1.jpg

The results? Amazingly effective.

“We tested the system's capabilities and detection success rate by inviting healthy participants during the prototype phase, as well as inviting real Parkinson's disease patients to a focus group, where we demonstrated our system in action,” said Dr Amini.

“The results showed the possibility of employing the system as an indoor and on-demand visual cue system for people with Parkinson's, that does not rely on the subject’s input or introduce any additional complexities to operate.

“Despite limitations regarding its outdoor use, feedback was very positive in terms of domestic usability and convenience, with people with Parkinson's showing interest in installing and using the system at their homes.”

And the best bit? This all-in-one system costs just £137 to build, excluding the controlling PC. That makes for a surprisingly cost-effective bit of kit that could help preserve someone’s mobility.

So far, the Kinect has been a far more effective healthcare machine - Nottingham Trent University’s work into rehabilitating stroke victims is a solid example of this. Microsoft may have killed the project, but it’s always great to see technology living a successful second life.