James McNames

Date of Award

Winter 2-22-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Electrical and Computer Engineering


Electrical and Computer Engineering

Physical Description

1 online resource (xiv, 127 pages)


Human mechanics -- Computer simulation, Detectors -- Technological innovations, Kinematics, Electromyography




The need to characterize normal and pathological human movement has consistently driven researchers to develop new tracking devices and to improve movement analysis systems. Movement has traditionally been captured by either optical, magnetic, mechanical, structured light, or acoustic systems. All of these systems have inherent limitations. Optical systems are costly, require fixed cameras in a controlled environment, and suffer from problems of occlusion. Similarly, acoustic and structured light systems suffer from the occlusion problem. Magnetic and radio frequency systems suffer from electromagnetic disturbances, noise and multipath problems. Mechanical systems have physical constraints that limit the natural body movement. Recently, the availability of low-cost wearable inertial sensors containing accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers has provided an alternative means to overcome the limitations of other motion capture systems. Inertial sensors can be used to track human movement in and outside of a laboratory, cannot be occluded, and are low cost. To calculate changes in orientation, researchers often integrate the angular velocity. However, a relatively small error or drift in the measured angular velocity leads to large integration errors. This restricts the time of accurate measurement and tracking to a few seconds. To compensate that drift, complementary data from accelerometers and magnetometers are normally integrated in tracking systems that utilize the Kalman filter (KF) or the extended Kalman filter (EKF) to fuse the nonlinear inertial data. Orientation estimates are only accurate for brief moments when the body is not moving and acceleration is only due to gravity. Moreover, success of using magnetometers to compensate drift about the vertical axis is limited by magnetic field disturbance. We combine kinematic models designed for control of robotic arms with state space methods to estimate angles of the human shoulder and elbow using two wireless wearable inertial measurement units. The same method can be used to track movement of other joints using a minimal sensor configuration with one sensor on each segment. Each limb is modeled as one kinematic chain. Velocity and acceleration are recursively tracked and propagated from one limb segment to another using Newton-Euler equations implemented in state space form. To mitigate the effect of sensor drift on the tracking accuracy, our system incorporates natural physical constraints on the range of motion for each joint, models gyroscope and accelerometer random drift, and uses zero-velocity updates. The combined effect of imposing physical constraints on state estimates and modeling the sensor random drift results in superior joint angles estimates. The tracker utilizes the unscented Kalman filter (UKF) which is an improvement to the EKF. This removes the need for linearization of the system equations which introduces tracking errors. We validate the performance of the inertial tracking system over long durations of slow, normal, and fast movements. Joint angles obtained from our inertial tracker are compared to those obtained from an optical tracking system and a high-precision industrial robot arm. Results show an excellent agreement between joint angles estimated by the inertial tracker and those obtained from the two reference systems.

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