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The plastic optical fibers, arranged in the bottom layer of the carpet, can bend when someone steps on it, recording, in real time, their walking patterns.
Small electronic devices located on the edges act as sensors and relay the signals to a computer. They can also show continuous deterioration or a change in walking habits, and can predict a dramatic episode such as a fall.
About 30% - 40% of older people living in a community fall each year. It is the most serious and frequent accident in the home and represents 50% of hospitalizations in the age group over 65 years.
The scientists, who presented their research at the Photon 12 conference, believe that the technology could be used to install smart carpets in nursing homes or hospital wards, as well as in people's homes when needed. Physical therapists could also use the mat to map changes and improvements in a person's gait.