Configuration Spaces

At the Vermont Rehabilitation Engineering Center of the University of Vermont, Gerald Weisman and his associates research one of the most widespread and costly medical complaints, lower back pain. Workers in all types of jobs must carry out routine tasks that exercise their back muscles in different ways. An injury can make those tasks impossible to perform, and it is the goal of the rehabilitation engineer to determine when the injured workers have recovered sufficiently to return to work. It isn't enough simply to measure general strength or endurance. The doctors need to obtain an accurate and useful description of the physical demands of a particular job in order to tell whether or not a worker is in condition to meet them. What positions do workers assume in the course of their jobs? How long do they stay in these positions, bearing what kinds of load? How frequently do they carry out different sorts of bending and twisting? This analysis often becomes an exercise in dimensionality, and the visualization of data in different dimensions is the common thread in the examples of this chapter.

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