KINGSTON, R.I. — High school students got to don footwear with sensors to measure the balance and force of their steps and wear a special football helmet that measures hard hits that can cause concussions during a special exhibit April 10 at the University of Rhode Island.
URI’s Department of Kinesiology and the bioengineering laboratory in the Department of Orthopedics at Brown University teamed up to bring National Biomechanics Day to the Kingston campus. About 25 South Kingstown High School students were among those from around the state who got the chance to use technology that’s changing the science of motion.
Biomechanics involves movement of a living body, from individual cells and tissues to how bones, muscles and tendons work together to create movement.
“The study of biomechanics helps us to understand how people move so that when they have problems moving, we can help to fix it — which is central to daily life,” said Susan D’Andrea, a biomedical engineer and professor of kinesiology at URI, and also an organizer of the event.
“So whether someone is a high-performing athlete who wants to break a personal record, or recovering from injury or dealing with a physical disability and in need of a rehab program or an assistive device, we are doing really exciting things in biomechanics that make a positive impact,” she said.
Among the activities were demonstrations of motion capture technology, balance and sway, an instrumented football helmet that measures the impact of concussions and hits, wearable sensors, virtual reality and electromyography devices, which assess the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them.
Virtual reality and augmented reality headsets allowed students to interact in an artificial world similar to the real world.
“We are working to develop rehabilitation protocols with the augmented reality,” D’Andrea said. “You can do remote monitoring with the systems and be able to interact with someone who is far away.”
Football players wore the helmets with special sensors inside them to measure hits as part of studies by Brown University and other schools. The results are displayed on a computer screen as a wavy line that spikes to different heights, depending on the force of a hit.
Nearby, students stood on a swiveling platform to measure their balance and sway. Equipment in the platform measures diagnostic information which is recorded for later analysis. It’s useful in scenarios such as treating sports injuries.
Other equipment isn’t computerized, but can be used to measure how high a person can jump. And large inflatable balls are used to evaluate a person’s balance and coordination.
Biomechanics is a factor in the development of physical therapy and rehabilitation programs, prosthetics, medical devices, surgical approaches and more, including robotics and special effects.
Wearable sensors in shoes and gloves, for instance, can help doctors learn more about Parkinson’s Disease patients, D’Andrea said.
“Biomechanics is everywhere — it’s all about how we move, and how we can move better,” D’Andrea said. “The activities and demonstrations are very hands-on and allow students to experience and gain an appreciation of what biomechanics is and what it does.”