A new system that employs Microsoft’s Kinect peripheral to help people with Parkinson’s disease overcome debilitating walking problems has been developed by researchers at Brunel University London.
The Kinect is a now-defunct line of motion sensing input devices sold alongside Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Xbox One devices. The Kinect sensor uses an RGB camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone which aims to provide full-body 3D motion capture, facial and voice recognition.
The system is now being used by researchers to monitor and detect freezing of gait (FOG) in Parkinson’s patients. When an occurrence is observed a laser casts visual cues on the floor according to the patient’s location, helping them release their gait and improve their movement.
‘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 leads 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.’
It’s hoped the system, which was unveiled in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology and supported by Parkinson’s UK, can be further developed and then be installed in patients’ homes.
The system prototype cost just £137 to build, excluding its controlling PC, works by monitoring a patient’s leg movements in their own home. Whilst similar systems using Kinect have been tested previously, the new system monitors the angle of the patient’s knee and their head direction, offering increased accuracy and a reduction in false positives.
Initially launched in 2010, the Microsoft Kinect is a motion-sensing device developed for use with a PC or Xbox. Whilst it was originally intended for gaming, the product proved popular with researchers and developers keen to find alternative uses.
Although the Kinect was discontinued as a commercial product in 2017, they are still easily obtainable second-hand.
‘The main reason that Microsoft Kinect was used is that it doesn’t require the patients to attach any sensors to their bodies in order for the system to detect FOGs. The Kinect can unobtrusively detect and track subjects’ body movements without any attachments, which makes it an ideal device for such applications’ said Dr Amini.
Once FOG is detected, the system casts two laser lines on the floor, perpendicular to the direction the patient is facing. This visual cue stimulates movement in the patient and helps relieve their gait.
‘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 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’ added Amini.
The research has now been published in the in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology: ‘Kinect4FOG: monitoring and improving mobility in people with Parkinson’s using a novel system incorporating the Microsoft Kinect v2’.