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National Science Foundation Awards University of Nebraska-Lincoln a Research Grant for Walking Study

Tuesday, February 7, 2017  
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Walking, unmistakably, is one of the most common things we do as humans, but as researchers will tell you, where we walk, how we walk, how often we walk and how fast we walk are all influenced by a myriad of factors, including the physical environment. Yunwoo Nam, Associate Professor of Community and Regional Planning and lead PI Changbum Ahn, Assistant Professor of Construction Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, were recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant for a project entitled “Human-Centric Sensing Platform to Assess Neighborhood Physical Disorder.”

This collaborative research team is seeking to measure how environmental, physical “disorders” (such as sidewalk defects, graffiti, broken windows, peeling paint, etc.), affect a pedestrian's physiological response. If uncomfortable or hazardous enough, these environmental conditions could have a real impact on a neighborhood’s health and safety. Why is this important? The more walkable a neighborhood is, the healthier and more desirable it is. The big question here is, can this research and technology help measure and detect built environment abnormalities and, therefore, be used to improve the overall wellbeing of a neighborhood and community? Perhaps someday this technology can be used to respond to the needs for community improvements, like sidewalk repair, in a faster and more efficient manner.

Ideally, Nam and Ahn are seeking to change how neighborhoods are assessed by community planners, non-profits and various governmental agencies. Traditionally, the approach of community assessments involved visual audits and perception surveys. However, the collaborators are seeking to include more evidence-based research data in the development of additional assessment tools. Their pilot research project intends to measure a participant’s physiological responses by collecting data through the use of a smartphone and sensors. The phone is synced with Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) motion sensors that are attached to the participant’s right ankle to measure gait stability and walking patterns and Photoplethysmography (PPG) sensors attached to the wrist and earlobe for measuring heartrate and skin temperature. Location information will be detected by Global Positioning System (GPS) technology within the smartphone.

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