Balance & Tripping-Quality of Life Technology Center - Carnegie Mellon University

Balance and Tripping

The goal of our effort in personal safety systems is to reduce the occurrence and impact of accidents. Our current focus is on an important issue for older adults: falling.

Falls threaten the quality of life of older adults and can lead to not only physical injury and possibly death but also with fear of falling, decreased activity, functional deterioration, social isolation, depression, and institutionalization. Falls are also associated with a tremendous economic cost. The aging of the population is expected to aggravate these fall-related concerns. To date, fall prevention programs have had limited success minimizing the risk of falls in the elderly. Research into the basic underlying reasons for aging-related worsening of postural control performance can provide new directions for clinicians and therapists in their attempt to minimize their patients’ risk of falling.

In this project we ask:  What happens when a person trips, and what recovery strategies are used? Our specific aim in this project is to understand the postural strategies used in trips and the biomechanical factors that cause trips-precipitated falls. In the long term, we think that such knowledge can be used to develop training and technology to reduce the risk of falls and their severity. To gain this knowledge we have subjects actually trip in the lab, which presents several research barriers to which we much overcome: 

  1. Not doing harm to the subjects
  2. Perturbing subjects in a natural and useful way
  3. Making sense of the complex responses.

We emphasize Personal Safety Systems, which monitor for risky behavior that leads to accidents and falls in home manipulation as well as unassisted and assisted locomotion, and acting to change behavior to reduce risk. This work will be transformative in that it uses deep knowledge of biomechanics and neural control, as well as statistical algorithms, to recognize human behaviors and assess risk. With reliable assessments of risk, it becomes possible to explore how to change human behavior on several time scales to reduce risk. We bring together expertise in human behavior as well as a robotics perspective to analyze accidents. We also develop simulation and robotic models of how accidents occur, and what can be done to reduce their occurrence and their effect. Personal safety systems will play an important system in the Active Home, as warning and supervisory systems in Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliances (PerMMA), and as part of Virtual Coaches that reason and interact about safety. We also expect to develop much better robot control algorithms to avoid loss of balance for both legged and wheeled robots.

Project Team

  • Jessica Hodgins, Lead
  • Stuart Anderson
  • Rakie Cham
  • Shiratori Taakaki

Images from tripping studies

Tripping graphic 

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Fall prevalence among older adults

Tripping graphic

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