Photo: University of Manchester
A “magic carpet” which can immediately detect when someone
has fallen and can help to predict mobility problems has been demonstrated by
University of Manchester scientists.
Plastic optical fibers, laid on the underlay of a carpet,
can bend when anyone treads on it and map, in real time, their walking
Tiny electronics at the edges act as sensors and relay
signals to a computer. These signals can then be analyzed to show the image of
the footprint and identify gradual changes in walking behavior or a sudden
incident such as a fall or trip. They can also show a steady deterioration or
change in walking habits, possibly predicting a dramatic episode such as a
As many as 30 to 40% of community-dwelling older people fall
each year. This is the most serious and frequent accident in the home and
accounts for 50% of hospital admissions in the over 65 age group.
Presenting their research to the Photon 12 conference, the
scientists believe the technology could be used to fit smart carpets in care
homes or hospital wards, as well as being fitted in people’s homes if
necessary. Physiotherapists could also use the carpet to map changes and
improvements in a person’s gait.
The imaging technology is so versatile it could even be
developed to detect the presence of chemical spillages or fire as an
The interdisciplinary team, from three academic Schools and
the Photon Science Institute at the University of Manchester, used a novel
tomographic technique similar to hospital scanners.
It maps 2D images by using light propagating under the
surface of the smart carpet.
The researchers, led by Patricia Scully from the University
of Manchester’s Photon Science Institute, believe the magic carpet could be
vital not only for helping people in the immediate aftermath of a fall, but
also in identifying subtle changes in people’s walking habits which might not
be spotted by a family member or carer.
Scully says: “The carpet can gather a wide range of
information about a person’s condition; from biomechanical to chemical sensing
of body fluids, enabling holistic sensing to provide an environment that
detects and responds to changes in patient condition.
“The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living
space to adapt as the occupiers’ needs evolve—particularly relevant with an
aging population and for those with long term disabilities—and incorporated
non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress
or wall that a patient interacts with.”
Krikor Ozanyan from the School of Electrical and Electronic
Engineering adds: “We pioneered this new kind of tomography here at the
University of Manchester in 2005. Now we are delighted to show how achievements
in maths, science, and engineering can bring together this exciting new
application in health care.”
Christine Brown Wilson from the School of Nursing Midwifery
and Social Work says: “This project demonstrates how engineers, scientists, and
health care professionals, can work together to develop new and innovative
health care technologies that make a real difference in practice.
Professor Chris Todd says: “Falls are a really
important problem for our ageing society. More than a third of older people
fall each year, and in nursing and residential homes it is much more common
“Older people will benefit from exercises to improve balance
and muscle strength in the legs. So being able to identify changes in
people’s walking patterns and gait in the natural environment, such as in a
corridor in a nursing home, could really help us identity problems earlier on.
“This is really exciting work at the forefront of research
using technologies to prevent falls and represents an unique collaboration
between scientists from different backgrounds working together to identity a
smart solution to an important problem for our country and indeed all over the
Source: University of Manchester