Dr. Chris Poellabauer works with Interns to advance wearable device technology

Author: Jose Chiquito Galvan

Cp Photo

The intersection of health and technology is making for exciting developments in a growing field of applied medical technology where Fitbits and Apple Watches could help save lives. 

As part of the Center for Civic Innovation Summer Internship Program of 2020, Christian Poellabauer, Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) Faculty Affiliate and Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, and CCI Interns partnered with Beacon Health System (BHS) to develop software for wearable devices. 

Poellabaurers vision is to someday understand and prevent falls for elderly patients living with Parkinson's disease.  To that end,  his research and technological developments in wearable devices goes above and beyond, seeking to understand how these advances can be applied within the health industry.  The partnership with BHS was instrumental by connecting Poellabauer’s team to BHS Parkinson’s patients.  Because falls can result in severe injury or even be fatal, this kind of research is especially relevant as it can help predict falls in elderly Parkinson’s patients.

CCI Interns, mentored by Poellabauer and one of his Ph.D. students, John Templeton, helped advance his pilot research project by developing the software that could take user input on devices that already track the body’s motions, or gross motor skills.

This new software update would allow a patient to provide simple feedback in the event that the device detects an unusual motile event. 

Despite the adjustments that were made due to COVID-19, Poellabauer was impressed by the work of interns this summer. Thanks to the new software developed by interns, patients from Beacon will be able to confirm whether they indeed experienced a near-fall motor event or give more specific details as to what occurred during the disturbance sensed by the device. This kind of interaction improves data and could provide a clearer picture of a patient’s proneness to falling.

This fall semester, Poellabauer’s team is on track to pilot the new wearable device software update. 

Poellabauer and his team of graduate and undergraduate research students will then find patterns and analyze that user enriched data. The analysis of these motor disturbances in the data’s patterns could eventually help Poellabauer’s team understand which patients are most at-risk of falling and lead to early detection and even save a life. 

Interns gained an in-depth understanding of the technology by developing this software that is now being trialed with Parkinson’s patients at Beacon Health Systems. The data gathered this fall will help further Poellabauer's research and open the possibility to expand the research and improve the technology and get closer to understanding what healthcare professionals can do to reduce the risks of dangerous falls in elders.