Innovation That Matters

Fitness trackers and scales for the mobility-impaired

Work & Lifestyle

Researchers at The University of Pittsburgh are adapting tracking and weighing technology for use by the mobility-impaired.

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Fitness trackers have proved to be an effective addition to weight loss programs, but they currently do not work for people who are wheelchair-bound because of obesity or other disabilities. This means that a vital part of the population who could benefit from the technology are going without. Now, researchers at The University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Lab are aiming to change this by adapting tracking and weighing technology for use by the mobility-impaired.


One product, in development, is an affordable assistive scale system. Most wheelchair users don’t know their weight because they can’t use a regular bathroom scale, and roll-on scales cost upwards from USD 600. The innovation is a quartet of discs that sit under the feet of the user’s bed. They weigh the bed before and after the user lies down to provide the person’s weight. The discs can connect to a smartphone or a bedside device, which display the weight. The scale is currently undergoing clinical trial and is expected to sell for USD 200.

Another line of development is led by Dan Ding, who is using armbands and wrist watches, equipped with accelerometers, to measure arm and upper body movement. A specialized mask also calculates energy expenditure by measuring breath going in and out. Ding is collecting data with study subjects and will use the results to create algorithms that can calculate the calories burnt through exercise and daily life.

How else could fitness monitoring equipment be adapted for neglected parts of the population?



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