This opportunity is now closed.

Funded PhD Opportunity

Intelligent Mobility Aids to Promote Physical Activity in Children with Cerebral Palsy

Subjects: Computer Science and Informatics and Nursing and Health


Cerebral palsy (CP) is the most frequent cause of physical disability among children. People with CP experience disordered posture and movement that in turn causes limitations in activities (e.g. walking). This can lead to physical inactivity, increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and limited participation and social integration in the home and community. Rehabilitative and assistive devices, can help restore or replace the loss of activity caused by a disability such as CP. Though approximately 70% of interventions for children with CP have low or inconclusive evidence supporting their effectiveness. As assistive devices (such as wheelchairs and walking frames) form a large part of standard care, a systematic, objective and disciplined approach to measuring clinical outcomes is needed when prescribing them.

Whilst there exists a number of technologies to measure human activity, the application of these technologies with a CP population has been vastly under-researched. This is potentially due to benefits, such as independent mobility being easily observable, yet difficult to objectively quantify outside of the clinical environment. Simple clinical tests allow for a quick overview of a patient’s condition, however, do not afford more in-depth evaluation of individual impairments and may not objectively capture changes over time. Advances in technology, coupled with improvements in data analytics, provides an opportunity to gain an unprecedented insight into how children with CP use these devices and perhaps encourage them to more actively engage through the application of gamification and behavioural change techniques.

The successful integration of intelligent technology within assistive devices, requires a multidisciplinary mix of skills in electronics, computing and digital product design combined with clinical knowledge of the condition as well as strategies for the promotion of physical activity.

This project will investigate the use of emerging sensor technology, integrated within mobility aids, to better understand physical activity behaviours in children with CP. The successful candidate will work with an established research team from technical, clinical and industrial backgrounds to understand the needs of these children and to develop novel sensing solutions to objectively measure and promote physical activity in children with CP.

The project has the following research objectives:

*To objectively measure physical activity in Children with CP through the use of use wearable and unobtrusive sensing technologies (accelerometers, pressure insoles, EMG).

*To evaluate the effectiveness of existing and novel mobility aids in a clinical setting.

*Apply data analytics to collected data to extract meaningful clinically relevant metrics from sensor data.

*To investigate the needs of Children with CP to understand barriers to physical activity through qualitative approaches.

*To develop novel technology-based solutions to increase physical activity through gamification and behaviour change techniques.

This project builds upon an existing collaboration between the School of Computing at Ulster University and James Leckey Design and is aligned with the research aims of the Connected Health Innovation Centre (CHIC). The collaboration has already led to the development of a new line of technology enhanced mobility aids (Leckey Connect). This collaboration won the Ulster University, Outstanding Research Partnership of the Year Award 2019.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement
  • Applicants will be shortlisted if they have an average of 75% or greater in a first (honours) degree (or a GPA of 8.75/10). For applicants with a first degree average in the range of 70% to 74% (GPA 3.3): If they are undertaking an Masters, then the average of their first degree marks and their Masters marks will be used for shortlisting.


    The University offers the following awards to support PhD study and applications are invited from UK, EU and overseas for the following levels of support:

    Department for the Economy (DFE)

    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £ 15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fee’s component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided). For Non-EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK. This scholarship also comes with £900 per annum for three years as a research training support grant (RTSG) allocation to help support the PhD researcher.

    Due consideration should be given to financing your studies; for further information on cost of living etc. please refer to:

The successful candidate will benefit from access to specialist equipment and facilities manufactured and supplied by James Leckey Design. This collaborative project enables free access to a range of supportive mobility aids and innovative products produced by the internationally renowned company; including support from multi-disciplinary clinicians and allied health professionals.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

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Key dates

Submission deadline
Friday 7 February 2020

Interview Date
Late March 2020


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Jordanstown campus

Jordanstown campus
The largest of Ulster's campuses

Contact supervisor

Dr Ian Cleland

Other supervisors

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