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Bristol UWE student innovates ‘Smart’ Walking Stick to transform lives of Parkinson’s sufferers

Product Design Technology graduate from University of West England (UWE Bristol) with Masters in Marketing and an entrepreneur, Neha Shahid Chaudhary developed a mobility aid to support Parkinson disease patients after witnessing her late grandparents suffered from the same disease. They struggled with freezing of gait and consequent falls caused by Parkinson.

Inspired from grandparents fight with this disease, Neha founded a Startup Walk to Beat aims to help people suffering from this illness. This startup is currently located at robotics incubator Bristol Robotics Lab.  They have designed a unique walk stick for Parksinson infected people support them to move again when stiffness or joint seizure happens.  £1,0000  has been awarded to the startup company for their innovation and wonderful invention.

Neha said: “People with Parkinson’s disease get jammed in one place and can’t leap forward – it can cause falls. They need any kind of rhythm or sequence to urge them started once more, because it acts as a cue”.

The Smart Walking Stick uses circuitry concealed within its handle to monitor walking patterns and provide vibrations that help them overcome freezing. Patients say it encourages them to walk.

The device is advisedly designed to appear like a standard walking stick and its vibrations will solely be felt and not detected, to make sure that it doesn’t draw attention to the user and cause them to be embarrassed regarding their condition.

“I did primary and secondary research in to the subject which involved talking to patients, going to care homes and attending Parkinson’s UK drop-in sessions. More than the illness itself, a big drawback is its impact on social lives. Other products for individuals with Parkinson’s have a stigma connected to them – they give the impression of being like product for disabled individuals,” Neha continued.

The technology has already been a success, tested among dozens of Parkinson’s patients, and the NHS and charity Parkinson’s United Kingdom have expressed an interest in the walking stick.

The device detects at once if the user’s limbs have frozen and that they cannot continue walking. Recognizing an interruption in motion, the stick vibrates to assist the patient regain their rhythm and acquire moving again.

She hopes that her invention will benefit 127,000 Parkinson’s syndrome patients in Great Britain who frequently experience joint freezing and abnormal gait symptoms. It has been already tested successfully among dozens of Parkinson’s syndrome patients. NHS and Parkinson’s United Kingdom charity have expressed an interest in her product after seeing its remarkable features.

Neha, 23, founder of start-up company Walk to Beat, has been flooded by the response to the technology.

She said: “When I gave the product to patients to be tested, there have been smiles on their faces and that they were saying ‘This might really work’. It appears unbelievable that I even have made something that may facilitate people, albeit it is to a little extent. It is a nice feeling for me and also the patients are happy that somebody is thinking of them.”

“I needed to design one thing that was esthetically pleasing and discreet, so I may solve a problem in an almost secret manner.

“There is not a cure for Parkinson’s – medication simply prolongs the condition and helps you keep alive for longer. My aim is to create their lives a little higher whereas they’re coping with it.”

 

 

Technology

Gait analysis has shown that sufferers enter a festination period before freezing and detecting this festination period is challenging. It is made more difficult because a person changes their gait unconsciously as the conditions around them change. In order to avoid false detection the device will need to adjust configuration thresholds on the ‘fly’.

The stick uses inexpensive off the shelf micro controllers and sensors. It uses technology to collect data, monitor walking patterns and then provide a haptic cue to overcome freezing. The technologies are concealed discretely within a walking stick, which is configured by a tablet application via Bluetooth. The app is also under production using an Android operating system.

The initial prototypes were tested with Parkinson’s patients to see if the cue helps them, most of the patients found it useful in fact they thought the cue was encouraging them to walk more and some felt it is interacting with them. Clinician’s feedback was also positive.

The Smart Stick is currently under final design review process for production and is being planned for a soft launch soon. A pre-order list is being prepared for the first small batch.

Motivation and Drive

“Entrepreneurship for me was an accident. What I had was an idea, I knew it could help people and I just wanted to make it happen. It turned out entrepreneurship was the way. I had no experience so every day was a new learning for me. “

“There are two things that keep me going:

When I now look back at myself sitting on a hot desk wondering if I’ll ever get anyone else interested in developing this idea. To now where I have my own office space, sufficient market presence and many people taking interest and helping me develop the product. I feel there definitely is potential and I will get there. Just have to keep going.

Secondly, the people who have been co-designing this with are the patients who gave there feedback and insights. Each one of them who I have given hope and promised that they will get the product. I feel highly responsible in fulfilling that. I have to keep going to make it happen. “

 

International student Neha, born in an Asian country, came up with the idea in 2014 as a part of a final year project during which she was challenged to plan a product that would solve a “real world” problem.

Her quality aid resembles a standard walking stick, however has refined technology integrated into the plastic handle, as well as a detector that can detect once the user has stopped taking steps. Once it has identified a pause, the stick emits a rhythmical beat to assist the patient resume walking.

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