Dr Ravi Vaidyanathan (mechanical engineering) is a senior Lecturer in bio-mechatronics and is looking for ways to better monitor and measure the activity of patients undergoing physical rehabilitation.
Tell us about your invention?
My team began by looking for a simple way to gather continuous information on muscle activity. We developed what we now call a myographic muscle sensor, which detects the acoustic signature of muscles to measure their underlying activity. Essentially it’s a small microphone and an echo chamber set up to detect the specific low frequency sound waves that muscles emit when contracting. The major challenge with the sensor is to filter out interfering frequencies, which we do using computer algorithms.
We’ve coupled this myographic sensor with an accelerometer and a gyroscope. This way we can get a complete view of the limb, how it moves, and what muscle activity correlates with those movements.
Clinicians are only able to get a snapshot in time of how a patient moves using electromyograms–technology that can be traced back to the 17th century with the work of Francesco Redi in electric eels. It is challenging outside of a lab environment, and sensors are usually only for one-time use. It isn’t that convenient for the patient either – you typically need conductive gel for the electrodes, and sometimes you have to shave and clean the skin with alcohol.
How does this compare with current technology?
We’ve produced a small, unobtrusive and reusable sensor that transfers information to a device, like a smartphone and then onto a database for review. This way, a patient can go about their day and, at the same time, give their therapist more accurate information on how they’re moving. From there, a more effective therapy strategy can be developed.
We’d like to refine the myographic muscle sensor a little more so we can hone in on specific muscles, measure if they’re contracting or relaxing and by what degree. In terms of commercialisation, we’ve been in discussion with Imperial Innovations and they’ve been a great help in terms of navigating the intellectual property world. We’re hoping to eventually create a spinout with this technology.
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