StepPlus team attempts to aid Parkinson’s patients with wearable tech

Through an anklet, a team of ASU students wants to help Parkinson's patients

What began as a senior Capstone project has turned into a competition as the StepPlus team, a group of four biomedical engineering students, is getting ready to enter the finals of the BioAccel Solution Challenge.

The team, comprised of ASU students Haley Sivertson, Brandon Bartels, Arianna Moreno and Joe Quezada, set out to create wearable tech to analyze the gait typically found in Parkinson’s patients.

The device is an anklet that will measure users’ length of steps, notifying the user if their step lengths should be adjusted.

Similar to a Fitbit in its concept, StepPlus is different because rather than simply count steps, it measures them.

Brandon Bartels, who is working on the hardware for the device, said the idea came from a necessity for the community.

“Parkinson’s individuals often experience shorter-than-normal step lengths,” Bartels said. “And there’s a short period of time in which these steps get shorter and shorter until they freeze. It’s detrimental to their daily life. They describe it as their feet being glued to the floor and they can’t take a step. If something is there to tell them to take a longer step, they can get out of that."

While this technology could be very helpful, the StepPlus team members said it’s crucial to give the device a discreet design.

“Parkinson’s individuals are often-times self-conscious, and they draw a lot of attention to themselves without an external device on their leg,” Bartels said. “We have to keep it small. We don’t want people to feel uncomfortable when wearing it and feeling like people are staring at them. It has to be aesthetically pleasing and lightweight.”

While the project is currently in a conceptual phase, the team has begun to make a prototype of the design. Team member Haley Sivertson said there have already been multiple challenges.

“The tough thing was coming up with a strong concept,” Sivertson said. “We had a lot of concepts and narrowing it down into the most realistic one and one that met our customer needs was tough. Right now, we’ve been testing different combinations of sensors, but there are so many different ways we could potentially do it, but we don’t know which one is the most technologically feasible. It’s a lot of trial and error.”

Arianna Moreno, material and design engineer on the project, said because people’s footsteps can be irregular even without Parkinson’s, proper measurement of footsteps is difficult.

“It’s the hardest part,” she said. “We’re able to determine when someone is just standing or walking or pacing back and forth. Now we can move onto how often we want to give feedback.”

Part of what makes StepPlus an appealing product for individuals with Parkinson's is the control it allows users to have.

“We wanted to increase their independence because that’s kind of the whole goal here,” Moreno said. “It’s to make them feel more comfortable when they are walking. That contributed to why we chose wearable tech, so they could make those changes.”

Correction: Due to a reporting error, multiple names were misspelled in a previous version of this article. The names have been corrected. 


Reach the reporter at Emmillma@asu.edu or follow @Millmania1 on Twitter.

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