Purdue University spinoff SmartGait LLC is commercializing camera-based technology that could help keep older adults and people with Parkinson’s disease from falling. The technology uses a conventional smartphone with a downward-facing wide-angle lens. The smartphone is worn on the waist and records the user's gait by measuring the distance between colored foot markets attached to the tips of his or her shoes. "Researchers can use other systems to measure gait, but they are really expensive and bulky and are unable to complete field assessments, so longitudinal studies haven't been widely practiced up until now," said SmartGait cofounder and Purdue professor Shirley Rietdyk. "Using a smartphone makes it much easier to complete on-site studies, and our system allows gait measurements to be automatically uploaded to a … web server, so we, as well as other researchers, can instantaneously track gait over time." The portable nature of the device allows researchers to conduct on-site studies over a continuous period of time. Over the next four months, SmartGait will conduct a study on older adults from University Place, a senior residential facility in West Lafayette, Ind., to further understand changes in gait patterns and detect health-associated changes. "In order to walk, demands are placed on the cardiovascular, respiratory, cognitive, nervous and musculosketal systems," Rietdyk said. "A change in gait is often associated with damage in one or more of these systems. Gait assessments can be considered to assess the vitality of an individual and can even be used to predict mortality. By examining a larger group of people and assessing their gait at multiple time points, we believe we can improve the ability to detect fall risk and also readily assess the effectiveness of fall-prevention interventions, helping to improve overall health." A byproduct of the technology is data on how texting influences how a person walks. "One of the most interesting things that we found from recent research is how texting and walking affects a person's gait," said SmartGate cofounder Professor Babak Ziaie. "We were particularly interested in the observation that not only young adults, but middle-aged and older adults, are also engaging in this risky behavior," said Justin Kim, a Purdue graduate student and SmartGate technology developer. "In general, people adopt a more cautious gait when texting and walking, mainly by walking slower. We found that middle-aged adults adopted a similar behavior to young adults, so they're not at a greater risk of falling." For more information, visit www.purdue.edu.