Motion data analytics: How motion sensors are changing our lives

DCU researcher Kieran Moran is applying motion data analytics to develop healthcare solutions

New technology is increasingly facilitating vast improvements in the remote monitoring of the health and progress of rehabilitating and chronic patients. The systems developed enable patients to live at home and yet keep many of the benefits of regularly visiting or staying in a hospital. The potential gains are huge, both in the practical and psychological advantages for the patients and in the cost savings for healthcare services. However, to maximise these benefits, sophisticated new technologies need to be developed.

Dr Kieran Moran, head of Dublin City University's School of Health and Performance, has identified how remote monitoring can be improved and developed through the application of motion-related data analytics, the study and development of technology to analyse motion. His team is developing an internet-based system that allows rehabilitating patients to follow at home an individually tailored physical exercise programme.

Exercise programmes are an important part of the treatment of rehabilitating cardiovascular patients, as they help to reinforce the heart. Currently hospitals deliver ten-week exercise programmes to outpatients. After completing this, patients are expected to join community-based exercise programmes. However there are very few centres offering these programmes across Europe, and often they are out of reach for patients.

The alternative is home-based exercise programmes. Up to now, however, these programmes are often unsuccessful, as patients are not always aware how the exercises should be best performed, and there is no way to monitor of how well they perform them.

"Monitoring is really important," Dr Moran explains, “because if they were just exercising to a DVD, and they can't keep up with it, we know that they are likely to stop because they feel that they are not good enough.”

However, in the EU-funded project PATHway (Physical Activity Towards Health), Dr Moran’s team are developing home-based exercise programmes in which the patients wear sensors which transmit analysable data. While the patient exercises, both their heart rate and movements are monitored, allowing cardiologists and GPs to check via the internet on both the patient’s progress and whether the patient is performing the prescribed exercises. Moreover, the system allows the patient to be individually monitored, enabling the exercise programme to be honed to maximise benefits for that particular patient.

The patient is observed by a depth camera linked to the Microsoft Connect site, which operates in conjunction with an X-box gaming computer. Dr Moran and his colleagues developed their own software to extract the motion data from the images.

The patient also wears a Microsoft Band 2 bracelet, which monitors the heart rate in real time. If the patient’s heart rate becomes excessive, the system automatically changes the intensity of the exercises. In addition, patients are provided with a wristband with a precise inertial sensor developed in Ireland by Shimmer. This sensor supplements the information on the movements of the patient, as these cannot be obtained with the depth camera when the patient is turned side-on.

Motion-related data analytics is a relatively new and very fertile field ripe for exploitation in many domains. In the past few years, other researchers have used motion data analytics to provide, for example, an understanding of how self-driving cars react to traffic situations. It can also help shipping companies significantly reduce costs by closely monitoring, analysing and changing the routes taken by their vessels, and to monitor the movement of livestock in agriculture. Ultimately this field could help realise the potentials of the internet of things, which makes it possible to harvest data from a broad range of sensors – including motion sensors – over the internet.

Dr Moran’s research group is at the forefront of this field, and has already been involved in various innovative applications. These include the development of sensors attached to the wrists and shoulders of golfers and tennis players to record their precise movements and enable them to improve and refine their skills. The application of motion data analytics to healthcare solutions offers a many further potential opportunities.