'Speed-trap' radar used to detect concussion

Posted by Kate Taylor

Concussion can be notoriously difficult to detect - but a new radar-based method has been developed that can quickly screen individuals including athletes and soldiers on a battlefield.

The Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) system depends on the observation that walking and talking simultaneously is difficult for those suffering from concussion.

“When a person with a concussion performs cognitive and motor skill tasks simultaneously, they have a different gait pattern than a healthy individual, and we can identify those anomalies in a person’s walk with radar,” said GTRI research engineer Jennifer Palmer.

While previous systems have been developed that examine gait, they've depended on the patient wearing special marked clothing. But the new technique uses radar systems similar to those used by police for measuring the speed of vehicles.

The team compared how 10 healthy individuals walked normally and when impaired by goggles that simulated impairment. Each performed four 30-second walking tasks: a normal walk, walk while saying the months of the year in reverse order, walk while wearing the goggles, and walk while wearing the goggles and performing the cognitive task. For each task, the subjects walked away from the radar system, turned around and walked back toward the radar system.

Using a 10.5 gigahertz continuous wave radar, the researchers analyzed the person’s foot kicks, head and torso movements, using information-theoretic techniques, which detected similarities and differences in the information without having to identify and align specific body parts. The technique could recognize a gait anomaly without needing to measure an individual’s normal gait.

"By looking for differences in the gait patterns of normal and impaired individuals, we found that healthy individuals could be distinguished from impaired individuals wearing the goggles," says Palmer.

"Healthy individuals demonstrated a more periodic gait with regular and higher velocity foot kicks and faster torso and head movement than impaired individuals when completing a cognitive task."

In future, the researchers plan to reduce the size of the system so that it becomes more practical to use.

"For the military, we envision the system could fit into a tough box so that commanders can have it in the field," says research engineer Kristin Bing.

"They could simply press a button, connect the radar system to a laptop, and an easy-to-use interface would display the results and tell them whether their soldier is exhibiting signs of a concussion."