StairLab allows scientists to study and precisely measure how the human body moves and interacts with environments, such as stairs, ramps, and bathrooms. Researchers study walking and other locomotor mechanics under normal circumstances and in response to a balance challenge in the various environments. This helps scientists to understand why and how people fall — a leading cause of injury and hospitalization particularly among seniors - and how falls can be prevented. Research has led to the development of better designed handrails, updated building codes for stairs and new mobility devices. A large research emphasis is placed on developing evidence for improved building codes and environmental design standards to increase safety and usability of stairs, handrails, grab bars and bathrooms.
StairLab is a modular research space with 5.5m x 5.2m x 3.8m interior dimensions. The lab can be outfitted with varied building elements and equipment; most notably, a force plate instrumented 8 step staircase with a 7 by 11 inch rise and run. The stairs can also be removed, revealing a floor with a grid pattern of attachment points thereby allowing any environment to be securely constructed inside this space. Other available lab features include a treadmill, force plate instrumented walkway and ramp, and bathroom. The lab has a motion tracking system and video capture for biomechanical studies that can track participants and objects. A robotic safety harness allows participants to move safely through the outfitted lab, while researchers present different challenges, such as a soapy bathtub or a sudden shake to disturb balance. The robotic harness can be programmed to provide varying amounts of body weight support to assist the occupant if needed, such as if a fall is detected.