Alabama State University recently announced the opening of its Biomechanics and Motor Control Laboratory, one of six such labs in North America.
“We are going to use it to improve people’s lives,” Lee Childers, PhD, MSPO, CP, director of the Biomechanics and Motor Control Laboratory (BMCL), said in a university press release.
The BMCL features a virtual reality machine called the Gait Realtime Interactive Analysis Lab (GRAIL), intended to improve prosthetic design and rehabilitation while improving stability and gait for people with stroke and lower extremity amputation. The GRAIL was funded by a grant for nearly $500,000 from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Md.
The GRAIL includes a wide treadmill attached to a motion base and surrounded by a projection screen and overhead cameras. The system is run by a bank of seven computers tracking the speed, pitch and sway of the treadmill belt, according to the release.
A participant using the treadmill is fit with small sensors that allow the computers to capture the motion of ankles and legs as well as the forces at each joint each time muscles fire.
“With GRAIL, what used to take weeks of analysis now takes minutes,” Childers said. “We hope to use it to do things like improve the design of prosthetics and orthotic devices, enhance physical therapy protocols and learn fundamental principles that govern how we walk.”
Childers will focus on three topics in his research at the BCML: the ways people with amputation and/or neurological injury use their motor system to utilize O&P devices for movement; the development of guidelines to help people improve running performance while minimizing the risk of injury; and solutions for Bernstein’s problem of motor redundancy, which involves defining the way human nervous, muscular and skeletal systems interact.
“We’ll be publishing our findings as a way of reaching out,” Childers said. “Our main goal is to help people through this great new way to research human motion.”