Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed new technology to investigate the relationship between vision and foot placement during walking. The devices include an eye tracker and a motion-tracking suit that record gaze and full-body kinematics as a wearer navigates various terrains. The insights provided by the technology could help researchers to understand what is going on in the brain during walking. This technology could assist them in developing new prosthetics, robots, and new treatments for diseases that affect mobility, such as Parkinson’s.
Walking requires precise coordination between our vision and foot placement, especially on uneven terrain. However, so far, vision and body movements have mostly been studied separately, and in controlled lab environments, meaning that researchers have only a limited knowledge about how they work together.
“One of the beautiful things about visually guided walking is that it involves every level of our perceptuomotor hierarchy,” said Jonathan Matthis, a researcher involved in the study. “To really understand it, you need to know how vision works, how planning works, how muscles work, how spines work, how physics work.”
The researchers developed an eye tracking device to capture where participants’ gaze fell during walking. “Eye movements are incredibly informative as a window into the cognitive process,” said Matthis. “By tracking eyes, we get a clear picture of the kind of information the central nervous system needs to complete any given task.”
Simultaneously, a motion-tracking suit captured their full-body kinematics. By analyzing the data from the eye tracker and body suit together, the researchers gained insight into how we use our eyes while walking over natural terrains. They tested the system in three different types of terrain: flat, medium, and rough.
The participants demonstrated distinctive patterns of walking and gazing on each of the three terrains, whereby they were able to walk more quickly on the flatter terrain, and looked down only about half of the time. On rougher terrain, participants looked at the ground over 90% of the time, and looked ahead to anticipate their footholds 2–3 steps ahead.
“Taking this type of research out of the lab and into the real world allows us to observe human behavior in its natural environment,” said Matthis. “This gives us more opportunity to discover things we didn’t expect, which will help us advance our scientific knowledge to the benefit of improving clinical treatment of gait-related disorders.”
Here’s a video about the technology:
Study in journal Current Biology: Gaze and the Control of Foot Placement When Walking in Natural Terrain…
Via: University of Texas…