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The active life: measuring the way people move

The active life: measuring the way people move

The Human Mobility Research Lab is a state-of-the-art human performance testing ground.

[photo of former post-doctoral researcher Ross Miller with sensors (the white dots) on his body that interact with cameras]

Former post-doctoral researcher Ross Miller with sensors (the white dots) on his body that interact with cameras.

The Human Mobility Research Laboratory (HMRL) is a state-of-the-art human performance testing ground. The physical space has 12-foot-high ceilings, 18 infra-red motion capture cameras, and tracking instruments in the floorboards.

“The whole objective of the lab is to measure the way people walk, the way people move,” says Kevin Deluzio, Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, who runs the HMRL. “We look at the biomechanics of daily living, of walking, jogging, climbing stairs, as well as high-performance actions exerted by athletes. We use the data and run it through sophisticated mathematical calculations to help us answer questions on how the joints are functioning and how to improve musculoskeletal health.”

Pictured above is Ross Miller, a former post-doctoral researcher at Queen’s (who now teaches at the University of Maryland). Those white dots on his body are sensors – essentially, reflective white balls – that interact with the cameras. (These cameras are similar to those used by the entertainment industry for gaming technology and movie production.)

By tracking the targets on each limb, HMRL researchers can create a 3D musculoskeletal model that they then use to measure the biomechanics of human mobility. The instruments in the flooring help them capture data on the loading between Miller’s body and the ground as he moves.

A focus on the knee

Deluzio focuses much of his research on osteoarthritis in the knee, and he’s particularly interested in deterioration rates – why the disease progresses in some and not others. “It used to be believed that osteoarthritis is just an inevitable part of aging. We now know that isn’t true. There is biomechanical rationale for why it affects some people more than others. We’re interested in the joint mechanics and finding ways to alter those mechanics to slow the progression of disease.”

In athletes, Deluzio is concerned with how knee injuries at a young age can affect the progression of osteoarthritis later in life. “Athletes want to know if they can get back on the court or onto the field, but we want to understand how these injuries affect them later – and how we can prevent the onset of disease.”

Deluzio’s team is looking at the effectiveness of knee braces – can they help slow the disease down and delay non-surgical treatment of the knee? “The knee brace activates different muscles and produces an unloading effect – but it doesn’t work for everybody. We want to find ways to make it work a little better and determine how much better knee stability helps stave off osteoarthritis.”

A collaborative effort

The HMRL, which is an offshoot of the university’s Human Mobility Research Centre, is located in Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston. This allows Queen’s clinicians, engineers and scientists to work directly on research with orthopedic surgeons.

“The demands on the health-care system in terms of musculoskeletal health are growing, especially with aging baby boomers,” says Deluzio. “There is also a much higher demand to maintain an active life among aging populations. Knee replacements are not the answer for everyone – there is a need for non-surgical treatments. The research we are doing will inform doctors’ diagnoses and treatments.”

Watch a video about the Human Mobility Research Lab.

[cover of Queen's Alumni Review 2015 Issue 3]