Researchers have shown off a fibre optic carpet that may even predict mobility problems at the 2012 Photon12 conference in Durham, UK. While the invention is expected to be used first and foremost in care homes or hospital wards, the carpet’s easy application design means the imaging technology might eventually enter our own homes as well.
Borrowed from the same technology as used for hospital scanners, the underlay of the carpet features plastic optical fibres that react to pressure and movement, mapping a person’s walking pattern. Tiny sensors at the edge of the carpet relay signals to a computer, which can be analysed to identify gradual changes in walking behaviour or a sudden incident such as a fall or trip. Deterioration in mobility can also be monitored and possibly used as an early warning system for falls.
As many as 30%-40% of older people fall each year, and this scientific innovation could help to identity and warn of problems earlier on when it matters most.