The curse of the industrial designer is that you know how things are made, and can easily become distracted by the construction of items in the built environment. Out in the world, we slow our friends and spouses down by pointing out unusual details in seemingly mundane objects.
Physical therapists, too, have a curse. In New York I was friendly with a few, and sitting in a diner, they pointed out to me that the waitress (whom they didn’t know) has a bum shoulder, a guy at the counter suffers from lower back pain, a woman passing on the sidewalk has recently had knee surgery. They’d seen and worked on enough human bodies to diagnose them by simply watching the way they moved, sat, stood, or carried things.
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As it turns out, there’s something to this. Medical research in Japan, according to design consultancy RDS, has discovered a link between the way that people walk and whether they’re at risk for dementia, stroke or joint diseases, which are all ailments that shorten life expectancy. AI is used to pick out telltale patterns in walking motions that imperceptible to the human eye.
Using walking as a biomarker would be fantastically useful, as it’s non-invasive, doesn’t require a testing facility and people in Japan tend to walk a lot, providing many opportunities to capture data. However, it’s not practical to send a cameraman out to follow people as they go about their days. Thus RDS, working in collaboration with Japan’s National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities Research Institute, has conceptualized a sort of droid called CORE-LER that follows a subject around and observes their walking motions.
According to RDS’ (machine-translated) project description:
“In this product, a robot equipped with a 3D camera tracks the subject. The robot analyzes walking and the obtained data is stored on the cloud server. We will constantly improve the accuracy of result judgment by machine learning and define walking movement as a new health barometer. In addition, accurate walking motion analysis that could only be done with an expensive motion capture system can be performed inexpensively and easily, and more items can be measured than with conventional walking analysis.
“By recording and analyzing walking movements as 3D data, it is expected to be used for early detection of diseases that were difficult to detect in the past and for measures against pre-illness.”
As someone who’s got a colonoscopy coming up, I’d much rather they develop a robot that follows me around and stares at my butt, or something.