'Smart Walker' patented
Cornell biomedical engineering students working with Weill Cornell Medical College-affiliated psychiatrist Dr. Eli Einbinder have designed an electronic braking system for walkers, with buttons replacing bicycle-style squeeze brakes. Their walkers also have automatic braking that can prevent slips, slides, and falls when a user grabs the handgrips.
For three years, a team of graduate students from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and undergraduate seniors from several departments in the College of Engineering worked with Einbinder and BME Senior Lecturer David Lipson on a prickly problem: how to prevent elderly users with limited mobility from falling when they use a braking walker.
The "Smart Walker" relies on handgrip sensors. The 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. It can further reduce injury among the elderly by encouraging a more active lifestyle.
The braking system the team devised has a single highly sensitive button. The button 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. That means this walker will brake safely for users with low strength or impairment in their hands.
This electrically assisted walker project, first reported in the Spring 2007 issue of CEM, stems from 16 years of work by Einbinder, who received a patent for his solution in June. Einbinder has been a consultant to the project since its inception, working with Lipson’s team at least weekly via conference calls and e-mail.
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