Maintaining mobility with ‘Smart Walker’

CORNELL (US)—An electronic button braking system that replaces bicycle-style squeeze brakes will make rolling walkers safer and easier to use.

Working with David Lipson, professor of engineering at Cornell University, biomedical engineering students have designed a better walker that can prevent slips, slides, and falls when a user grabs the handles.

Relying on handgrip sensors, the ‘Smart Walker’ starts in the braked position and low-strength users need only touch a button to electronically disengage the brake and begin moving.

Once a user removes hands from the handlebar, the walker automatically resets to the braked position.

The added stability and ease of operation for users with reduced hand strength promises to dramatically reduce accidental falls—a significant source of injury among the elderly with limited mobility.

The walker can further reduce injury among the elderly by encouraging a more active lifestyle.

The button braking system runs to a microprocessor, which sends information to a linear actuator that in turn pulls on a mechanical brake to make the wheels come to a complete stop, meaning the walker will brake safely for users with low strength or impairment in their hands.

The electrical model is “much simpler and easier for really anyone to use,” says Eli Einbinder, a Weill Cornell Medical College-affiliated psychiatrist, who has been a consultant on the project since its inception.

“The augmented walker appeared simple, but it also was a challenging design,” Lipson says.

“We had constraints on cost, weight, simplicity and several choices for which approach to use. This made it a terrific project because the students could look at many designs, with improvements in the subsequent years by a new team.”

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that by the middle of the 21st century, about 80 million Americans will be 65 or older. According to the group’s research, medical costs resulting from falls by the elderly are expected to approach $32.4 billion by 2020.

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