The iSense is an athletic device developed by a student at the University of
Essex in the UK. PHd student Mohamed Al-Mulla devised the device as part of
his course, and it works as a prosthetic, crossing the devide between the brain's
idea of what is going on, and what the muscles are actually doing.
In other words, it is a sensory augmentation, designed to increase the natural
biofeedback mechanism, and provide supplementary information that the brain
is not naturally aware of. It is an external prosthetic, attached to the skin
by sensors, deriving it's sensory data from electromyograpic detection of the
minute electrical signals generated by the muscles as they contract. This, when
coupled with a processing centre - a laptop, or smaller computing device - allows
a real-time analysis of muscle fatigue, alerting the athlete of impending mechanical
muscle fatigue related problems before they occur.
Thus the athlete can push themselves to the limit, but have the confidence
to know their augmented sensory system will warn them of impending damage to
their muscles before said damage takes place. It does not stop them from pushing
that little bit harder, but lets both them and their trainers know when such
damage is guaranteed to occur - when it is time to slow down or take a break
if they actually wish to be in any shape to compete any time in the near future.
Two types of sensor are actually used in the iSense. A flexible electro-goniometer
placed on the mid-point of the arm or leg tracks in real-time the angle of the
elbow, or of the knee. In theory it could also be used to track the angle of
any joint if required. This angle is continually fed into the calculations taking
into account the mechanical stresses the limb is under. In addition, it measures
oscillations and vibrations in the joint - a key sign that the limb's mechanics
are approaching breaking point. The second sensor is a more typical array of
sEMG electrodes, placed around the limb, and on the torso muscles that connect
to the limb, to detect the contraction stresses and determine to what extent
load is being placed on each. A final sEMG electrode placed on a bony part of
the body, calibrates all the other sensors in real-time.
It sounds more complex than it is. The following diagram makes things much
clearer from the athlete's perspective whilst showcasing the system in operation:
The system whlst complex, is simple from a hardware point of view. Most of
the apparent complexity is in the software side of things, and so the aim is
not for this to be a high-end professional athlete's workout tool, but for it
to be available to the average person, including the elderly and disabled.
The first iSense prototype was created in February 2011. Work has continued,
and Mr Al-Mulla is now seeking investment to make the iSense prosthetic commercially