Wireless Router Senses How You Walk and How Healthy You Are

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When you hang a new wireless device on the wall next to your family portraits, you may gain an inside glimpse of your health and that of your loved ones.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently revealed a wireless health-tracking device known as WiGait that can hide in plain sight in your home and assess your movement for telltale signs of disease — from cognitive decline to heart disease.

Credit: MITCSAIL/YouTube

“By using in-home sensors, we can see trends in how walking speed changes over longer periods of time,” said lead author Chen-Yu Hsu. “This can provide insight into whether someone should adjust their health regimen, whether that’s doing physical therapy or altering their medications.”

The team points to recent studies, including one that found a direct correlation between gait speed and mortality, that highlight the power of walking and its ties to a person’s overall health.

WiGait, which provides a 95 to 99 percent accuracy reading of the walking speed of multiple individuals, can provide vital information about a person’s movement and walking habits without the need for a wearable device. The MIT team believes the technology holds vast promise when it comes to improving health outcomes.

“Many avoidable hospitalizations are related to issues like falls, congestive heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which have all been shown to be correlated to gait speed,” said Dina Katabi, head of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). “Reducing the number of hospitalizations, even by a small amount, could vastly improve health care costs.”

Smart Homes Get Smarter

With their work, the researchers continue the trend of interactive technology being placed within people’s homes.

“The vision, really, is that the future of homes will be health aware,” Katabi told Co.Design. “Today you have a smoke detector in your home, but you don’t have a health emergency detector. You really want that. That’s more important.”

Related: At-Home DNA Test Can Reveal Risk for Hereditary Conditions

They believe the new technology, which taps into the cloud by “analyzing the surrounding wireless signals and their reflections off a person’s body,” would be welcome to consumers because it is far from intrusive.

“We don’t create an image,” said Katabi, describing WiGait to Co.Design. “One of the main things we’re trying to avoid is being a camera or Kinect, and having a minimal amount of information. It’s not an image. You don’t get to see the person or discover something that could be personal. You can just track the movement – and even track it through walls.”

Another big benefit is that a person can simply hang the box-like device on the wall, which the researchers compare to a small painting, and let the health-analyzing technology do the work for them.

Related: Walking Could Keep Our Eyes Sharp As We Age

“The true novelty of this device is that it can map major metrics of health and behavior without any active engagement from the user, which is especially helpful for the cognitively impaired,” said Dr. Ipsit Vahia, a geriatric clinician at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who was not part of the study.

Changes in walking speed may foretell a fall risk or that a person has suffered an injury. Soon the researchers hope to focus their new tech on people at high risk of poor health outcomes, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.