Magic carpets aren't just for flying; they're now for falling. A team of researchers at the University of Manchester in England has developed a carpet embedded with optical fibers that can sense and map walking patterns in real time. The fibers send the information to a tiny electronics at the edge of the carpet that analyze the movement of the walker, identifying changes that may indicate a sudden fall or trip.

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But the computer can monitor the walking pattern over time, too, and recognize if a person's gait is unsteady. That information could be send to a healthcare aid as a warning that the person may fall.

University of Manchester

Falls among older people are fairly common. As many as 30 percent to 40 percent of elderly people who live in community housing fall each year. And 50 percent of hospital admissions of people over age 65 are due to injuries from falls.

Smart carpets such as this one could be used in homes to help monitor the mobility of an elderly person or could be used by therapists to improve a patient's balance.

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In a press release, one of the researchers, Dr. Patricia Sully of the University of Manchester's Photon Science Institute said, “The carpet can be retrofitted at low cost, to allow living space to adapt as the occupiers' needs evolve – particularly relevant with an aging population and for those with long term disabilities – and incorporated non-intrusively into any living space or furniture surface such as a mattress or wall that a patient interacts with."

The team presented their magic carpet innovation at this year's Photon 12 conference in Durham, U.K.