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Human Movement Technologies

Our group focuses on research into human movement and the development of technologies to evaluate and assist human movement. The group is led by three Professors, based in the schools of Health Sciences (Granat and Kenney) and Computing, Science and Engineering (Howard) and group members’ backgrounds span engineering, physiotherapy, public health, prosthetics and orthotics, and psychology. Our group includes around ten academic members of staff, six research assistants/fellows and ten PhD students. Our current research is supported by external grants worth well over £2million from NIHR, EPSRC and charities. Members of the group have well over 200 journal publications and we have been instrumental in setting up the new International Society for the Measurement of Physical Behaviour ( and the associated journal () . Our group recently hosted the XV International Symposium on 3D Analysis of Human Movement (2018) and will host the Trent International Prosthetics Symposium (2019) – with Newcastle and Greenwich Universities.

Our research

The main highlights of our research are:

  • Ground breaking work on new approaches to the quantification of free-living physical behaviours.
  • Advanced energy storage and return in lower-limb prostheses using miniature hydraulic systems.
  • We are a partner in the world’s largest RCT trial of a workplace intervention to reduce sedentary behaviour.
  • A controller that is both flexible and easy to set up for upper-limb functional electrical stimulation (FES), which has been trialled as an adjunct to physiotherapy in stroke rehabilitation.
  • Development of novel outcome measures for interventions in a range of clinical conditions.
  • A drop foot stimulator with automated setup (the world’s first demonstration outside the laboratory).
  • Development of a novel approach to falls monitoring.
  • Mathematical modelling and simulation of neuro-musculo-skeletal systems.
  • A novel and rigorous approach to assessing the stability of people using walking aids.
  • Novel approaches to understanding user-assistive device interaction, focusing on upper limb prosthetics and FES systems.
  • Award winning research on monitoring assistive device use outside of the clinic.

Our research broadly falls into the following three areas:

Objective measurement and quantification of free-living physical behaviour(s)

We study the applications of objective measurement and quantification of free-living physical behaviour(s) and its related constructs using body-worn devices. We are developing event-based analysis techniques and outcome measures for the quantification of free-living physical behaviours. Collaborations with clinicians and health practitioners allow this research to be applied across varied populations where the benefits of physical activity to health are of key importance. Outcomes measures, based on physical activity patterns, are being developed to quantify the effectiveness of interventions in a wide range of clinical groups and these techniques are also being used to enhance our understanding of how physical behaviours are affected by environmental and social factors.

The design and development of new technologies aimed at assisting human movement

Our approach to the design and development of new technologies is to first gain an in-depth understanding of the limitations of current devices. We build on this understanding to produce novel designs, often in collaboration with leading companies, including Chas A Blatchford (prosthetics and orthotics) and Odstock Medical (FES). We have been involved in work leading to the regulatory approvals of a number of medical devices, including ShefStim and StimUStep. We have also published the first research showing the potential of miniature hydraulics for advanced energy storage and return in lower-limb prosthetics.

Novel methods for the evaluation of assistive technologies, including biomechanics-based modelling techniques

In order to properly understand the limitations with current technologies, we are developing new evaluation techniques, often based on wearable sensors and, where relevant, in collaboration with psychologists. We use advanced mechanics-based modelling to inform some of this work. For example, our group was one of the first to publish on an approach to gait prediction based on inverse-dynamics combined with optimisation. Our most recent work has introduced a novel mechanics-based approach to evaluating the stability of walking aid users.

We focus on two interlinked themes:

We typically approach the design and development of new technologies through first gaining an in-depth understanding of the limitations with current devices. We build on this understanding to produce novel designs, often in collaboration with leading companies, including Chas A Blatchford and Odstock Medical.

In order to properly understand the limitations with current technologies, we are developing new evaluation techniques, often based on wearable sensors, and in some cases, in collaboration with psychologists. Our work is supported by a number of leading funding bodies including EPSRC and NIHR. Please click on the links above to find out more!

Fit-for-purpose, affordable body-powered prostheses (EPSRC)

Although body-powered prostheses offer many potential advantages over powered devices, in terms of cost, maintenance and ease of use, there has been relatively little investment to improve their design. In this £1.4 million project we are working with partners at 3 other UK universities, the University of Jordan and Uganda to develop better low-cost, body-powered prostheses. Please click on the link above to find out more!

Are Older People Putting Themselves At Risk Of Falling When Using Walking Frames? (Dunhill Medical Trust)

Fall-related injuries in older adults are a major and growing global health problem. Walking aids are designed to provide stability, yet their use has been reported as a major risk factor for falls [Deandrea 2010]. Their effectiveness is determined by how appropriately they are used, yet little guidance is offered to users.  How they are used in real life situations is entirely unknown. Using a Smart Walker we previously developed for assessment of stability of walking frame use, we aim to:

  • Measure frame use and how stable older people are when using walking frames at home            
  • Evaluate views of clinical staff, walking frame manufacturers and walking frame users as to how this Smart Walker Technology meets their needs.

The long-term aim is to ensure that people are prescribed appropriate walking aids and provided with better training in using these walking aids to reduce their falls-risk. Please click on the link above to find out more!

Smart walking aids – Preparing their route to clinical adoption (GMAHSN - Ignite)

We previously develop a range of ‘smart’ walking frames (pick-up Zimmer frame, front-wheeled Zimmer frame, 4-wheeled rollator) which inform on usage patterns, body weight support, and stability. Our prototype systems are now being used in a number of studies of user stability. This project is concerned with end-user consultations (users of walking frames, clinicians, manufacturers) and market research, to prepare the route to clinical adoption for our ‘Smart Walkers’. Please click on the link above to find out more!

Adaptive Assistive Rehabilitative Technology: Beyond the Clinic (AART-BC) (EPSRC)

Rehabilitation technologies, such as wheelchairs and walking frames, are widely prescribed, yet we have a very poor understanding of how and in what circumstances people make use of them. This in turn limits our understanding of the effectiveness of such devices and makes it difficult for clinicians to prescribe correctly. In this project we are developing a platform to address this issue. Please click on the link above to find out more!

Patient acceptability of a novel prosthetic device: A randomised feasibility study in older patients with vascular-related amputations and multimorbidities (RfPB-NIHR)

This feasibility study investigates whether it is possible to conduct a large randomised controlled trial comparing standard ankle-foot prostheses to a non-standard version. The project will run over two years, and 90 trans-tibial amputees will be recruited and randomly placed into one of two groups: either wearing their existing (standard) prosthesis or a non-standard prosthesis. Pain, health and well-being, daily walking distances and the amount of time per day during which they wear their prosthesis will be recorded. A Patient Advisory Group (PAG), Trial Management Group (TMG) and Trial Steering Group (TSG) will support the work. Please click on the link above to find out more!

Energy efficient lower limb prostheses (EPSRC)

Energy efficiency of prosthetic gait is generally lower than able-bodied gait. This project focuses on the development of novel prosthesis technologies to control the storage and release of energy during gait and thereby improve energy efficiency. Please click on the link above to find out more!

A practical, yet flexible functional electrical stimulation system for upper limb functional rehabilitation (NIHR)

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) has been shown to have a positive impact on the recovery of the upper limb following a stroke. However, current FES technologies are limited in a number of ways. This project is developing a new system for therapists to quickly and easily set up controllers which will provide patients with stimulation to appropriate muscles over appropriate periods of a functional task. The project is a collaboration with Odstock Medical Ltd. Please click on the link above to find out more!

  1. Gardiner J, Bari Z, Kenney L, Twiste M, Moser D, Zaheedi S, Howard D. Performance of optimised prosthetic ankle designs that are based on a hydraulic variable displacement actuator (VDA). IEEE Trans Neural Sys Rehabil Eng (in press).
  2. Costamagna E, Thies S, Kenney L, Howard D, Liu A, Ogden D. A generalizable methodology for stability assessment of walking aid users. Med Eng Phys 2017; 47: 167-175.
  3. Gardiner J, Bari Z, Howard D, Kenney L. Transtibial amputee gait efficiency: Energy storage and return versus solid ankle cushioned heel prosthetic feet. JRRD 2016; 53: 1133-1138.
  4. Emmanouil, E., Wei, G., and Dai, J. S., Spherical trigonometry constrained kinematics for a dexterous robotic hand with an articulated palm, Robotica 2016;34: 2788–2805.
  5. Chadwell A, Kenney L, Thies S, Galpin A, Head J. The reality of myoelectric prostheses: Understanding what makes these devices difficult for some users to control. Front Neurorobot 2016; 10:7.
  6. McGrath M, Howard D, Baker R. The strengths and weaknesses of inverted pendulum models of human walking. Gait Posture. 2015;41(2):389-94.
  7. Prenton S, Kenney LP, Stapleton C, Cooper G, Reeves ML, Heller BW, et al. A feasibility study of a take-home array-based functional electrical stimulation system with automated setup for current functional electrical stimulation users with foot-drop. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014; 95(10):1870-7.
  8. Bongers RM, Kyberd, PK, Bouwsema HB, Kenney L, Plettenburg D, & Van der Sluis CK. Bernstein’s (1996) hierarchical levels of construction of movements applied to upper-limb prosthetics. J Prosthet Orthot 2012: 24:67-76.
  9. Major M, Twiste M, Kenney LPJ, Howard D. Amputee Independent Prosthesis Properties – A New Model for Description and Measurement. J Biomech 2011; 44(14): 2572-2575.
  10. Thies SB, Jones RK, Kenney LPJ, Howard D, Baker R. Effects of ramp negotiation, paving type and shoe sole geometry on toe clearance in young adults. J Biomech 2011: 44(15):2679-84.
  11. Preece SJ, Goulermas JY, Kenney LPJ, Howard D, Meijer K, Crompton R. Activity identification using body-mounted sensors – a review of classification techniques. Physiol. Meas. 2009; 30:R1-R33.
  12. Thies SB, Tresadern PA, Kenney LPJ, Smith J , Howard D, Goulermas JY, Smith C , Rigby J. Assessment of movement repeatability in stroke patients and controls performing two upper limb functional tasks J Neuroeng Rehabil 2009; 23;6:2.
  13. Thies S, Kenney LPJ, Howard D, Nester C, Ormerod M, Newton R, Baker R, Faruk M & MacLennon H. Biomechanics for inclusive urban design: effects of tactile paving on older adults' gait when crossing the street. J Biomech 2011; 44(8):1599-604.
  14. Hodgins D, Bertsch A, Post N, Frischlolz M, Volckaerts B, Spensley J, Wasikiewicz JM, Higgins H, Von Stetten F, Kenney L . Healthy aims: Development new medical implants and diagnostic equipment. IEEE Pervasive Comp, 2008; 7(1): 14-21.
  15. Ren L, Jones RK, Howard D. Predictive modelling of human walking over a complete gait cycle. J Biomech. 2007;40(7):1567-74.
  16. Kenney L , Bultstra G, Buschman R, Taylor P, Mann G, Hermens H, Holsheimer J, Nene A, Tenniglo M, van der Aa H, Hobby J An implantable two channel drop foot stimulator: initial clinical results. Artif.Organs 2002;26:267-70.

We welcome enquiries from able and highly motivated students with good first degrees in the following subjects: 

  • Engineering (any) or physics 
  • Psychology 
  • Any of the allied health professions

To give an idea of the kind of PhD research, please see some of our more recent theses:

We also are able to host internships for biomedical engineering students.

  • Eleonora Costamagna – Assessing stability of walking frame users (supervisors Thies, Kenney, Howard)
  • Alix Chadwell - Understanding the impact of skill, uncertainty and delays on the control of myoelectric prostheses (supervisors Kenney, Galpin, Thies, Head)
  • Abdullah Al-Ani – Adaptive control of upper limb functional electrical stimulation (supervisors Howard, Kenney)
  • Huthaifa Atallah – Passive approach to the management of limb volume fluctuations in trans-tibial amputee gait (supervisors Kenney, Howard, Liu, Head)
  • Sarah Prenton (PhD BPW) – title to be confirmed (supervisors Kenney, Hollands)

Professor David Howard
+44 (0)161 295 3584


Professor Laurence Kenney
+44 (0)161 295 2289

The team

Dr Jamie Gardiner

Mr John Head

Prof David Howard

Prof Laurence Kenney

Rehabilitation Technologies

Ms Helen Luckie

Functional Electrical Stimulation; Neurorehabilitation

Dr Mingxu Sun

Dr Sibylle Thies

Biomedical Engineering, Biomechanics

Dr Martin Twiste

Biomechanics, Prosthetics

Ms Karen Waring

Upper limb rehabilitaition in the use of technology (Functional Electrical Stimulation)

Dr Gouwu Wei

Prof Malcolm Granat

Measurement of Physical Behaviour

Yasser Althebaity

Mr Robert Broadley

Ms Susan Buttress

Miss Alexandra Clarke-Cornwell

Public Health

Prof Penny Cook

Public Health

Dr Anna Cooper

Public Health

Prof Laurence Kenney

Rehabilitation Technologies and Biomedical Engineering

Mr Mark McAloon

Dr Chris Pickford

Ms Clare Rafferty

Sathish Sankarpandi

Abedalmajeed Shajrawi

Dr Sibylle Thies


Dale Walker