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A New All-terrain Cane (Updated: May 29th- Spring-based ball & socket attachment, and refined parts for the cane)

An all-terrain movement cane that can bring back more natural functionality to movement, hence increasing user safety and comfort.

Photo of Rodney Lobo
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

This idea is meant for the elderly who use canes, or those who are prescribed one. Due to the additional features, the elderly will be safer, and due to improved functionality and stability, the cane will help them maintain balance on uneven surfaces, preventing falls.

After speaking with experts, we have found out that Canes are the most self-prescribed assistive devices a person begins using when they get older. They will use canes even if they have minor injuries, so that their mobility can become easier.

We have many kinds of canes; even the most sophisticated canes have issues with when it comes to movement. 

We are in the process of developing a cane which allows for all-terrain movement with its jointed ends. It will have shock reduction capabilities making it safer to use in uneven surfaces. It will also be embedded with other features like comfortable and customized handles, laser guidance, and alert system. Another important feature is the easy storage, making it possible to be stored in small places, and easily usable in tight spaces like a crowded subway.


Iteration 1 of the prototype: Low fidelity parts

We have an early folding concept that we have been working on for about a week. Here is a video of one of our concepts where the cane can be folded in two different ways for storage. We were inspired by telescopes and tripod easels.

We are going to meet our industrial designer friend to come up with feasible designs.

Update 2: April 17th (Simple circuit and electronics for the cane)

Below is the simple block diagram of how the alert part of the cane works. The laser grid projects a 650nm wavelength red light, which is detected by a detector (the one that has a lens on its surface). The detector keeps a track of the distance of the laser grid from the lens by determining the reflected red light.

If the distance goes beyond a certain set limit, it is usually the case that the cane has fallen down (keep in mind, the electronics need power, so the device is turned on only if the user wants to use it).

If the laser goes beyond a certain limit, an alert signal is sent to a mobile phone through a bluetooth module. Currently, it can work on most Android devices.

A simple working circuit is in the below images. They need to be connected to the end of the cane. 

The below image shows the detector on the left, the grid  in the center (unfortunately, one of the lasers broke), and the bluetooth module on the right.

The image below shows the detector pointing towards the red laser light (when surrounded by bright light). So even though the device is used in broad day light, the detector can still work.

Update 3: April 19 2017 (variety of bases for the base):

We have printed different kinds of bases for the cane. Depending on the kind of environment, different bases can be used. For example, using a sharper base, like the one with cones, can be used outside on the streets. The square shaped extrusions on the second base is more suitable for wooden or tiled floors. The parabolic base could be more useful if the floor is carpeted.

In the left sided image below, you can see the parabolic (top left), square (top right) and conical (bottom) attachments to the base. All three of them are 3D printed. We are working on more shapes suitable for more different environments. 



User Testing 1:

Update 4: May 1 2017 (User opinion from NYU Tandon Research Expo and User Testing at Weinberg Senior Center)

Part 1: Research Expo: (Taking from Dawn's Comment)

We had many people stop and engage in in-depth conversations with us about their own experiences with assistive devices, what they thought of our prototypes, and even had a handful of people asking us where they could buy them (yippee!). Some key insights gained from user feedback of our prototypes:

• The device should ideally weigh no more than 14 pounds. One user expressed that anything heavier than that is too difficult to lift, especially when getting in and out of cars

• It would be very helpful if the device folded up into an easy to manage size. This would be helpful when fitting the device in a car, when setting the device aside at a restaurant, or other situations in which you need to store the device.

• We received feedback that the light feature may not be very important because many people who need a walker probably don't go out at night anyway. However, we think it is worth researching further because perhaps if the persons path were well lit they would feel that they could safely get around after the sun goes down.

Part 2: Senior Center: (Taking from Rodney's Comment)

On April 24th, we took the canes to the Weinberg Senior Center. Many elderly liked the prototypes, and were excited to test it. This came to us as a surprise that they liked the idea that they can have different cane bases in different environments.
They also criticized canes such as the Hurry-Cane because it did not help them balance properly (although they liked that it folded well). They agreed on the fact that they preferred that their canes stood on their own, rather than be placed leaning against other objects.
They also said that they would like it if the cane could help them balance their weight and make them easier to walk especially in uneven surfaces.
Here is the link to some of the images and videos of the test, and a couple of them are below the link:

Update 5: May 9 2017 (Refinement ideas from an OpenIDEO meetup)

In a recent OpenIDEO meetup, we got insights from all the participants about improving our idea. We are considering taking ideas from the soles of different shoes to include at the base of the cane.

Here is a concept video of how the ball and socket joint would be working with the cane. The cane will come with the ball and socket joint, and we will have different kinds of bases to increase affordability.


Iteration 2 of the Prototype and User testing 2: Improved prototype parts

Update 6: May 23rd 2017 (New base made of flexible material for better grip)

We began experimenting with a flexible material for the base cap. The flexibility of the material gives a better grip than the previous caps. The only issue is that it takes a long time to print these caps, as the flexible material is a little tricky to handle. This emulates a shoe! Meanwhile, the ball and socket join are being printed, and will be out for testing in about a day.

We are also trying to cut shapes out of shoe soles and put them beneath the base caps, to see if it works out.

Here are the image of the new flexible base cap (we only have one filament of this material, so there is only one, similar to the square base from the previous iteration), and a video to show its operation:

Update 7: May 24th 2017 (Safety regulator and alert system)

An improved version of the previous system without the grid light. The grid light, as we realized that the grid, as cool as it looks, is functionally useless. A grid is not required to show the uneven surface, but anything that can cast a simple shadow can do it.

Below is the image of the electronic prototype we had built. 

The video below the concept until an alert signal is obtained at the user's phone. We know that such a system can be made really small and compact, and can be incorporated at the base of the cane. The app can be a background application. 

The assumption is that if the cane falls down, then the alert signal will be sent, as the detector cannot detect the presence of an object (the floor or ground) in front of it.

We are working on making this smarter so that there are very few to no false positive alerts.

Update 8: May 27th 2017 (User testing the base and ergonomic handle)

Part 1: User testing with the flexible base 

After testing the flexible bases ourselves, we made more of them. We even took different kinds of soles of shoes and attached to a few of them.

In the second OpenIDEO fall prevention refinement meetup on May 25th, our team showed the new improvements of the base. We also did a small user testing, as we could not go to the senior center yet. Our users were people who have used a cane before, some who have never used one before, and a Physical Therapist. We were told that adding the base made it sturdier to use, and gave a better grip when using at an angle to the ground (which was one of the issues we were trying to tackle).

Below is a user testing video at the meetup:

Part 2: Making the handle more ergonomic

We were also told that constant usage of any cane would mean that there will be pain or discomfort in the user's wrist or shoulder. Hence we were advised to look for materials that can be more comfortable to use.

Our team did some research and found a thermoplastic material called Polycaprolactone which can be heated in hot water (about 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and easily molded into different shapes. Once it cools down, it retains its shape and can hold on to its shape until there is a need for remolding using hot water. The good things about this material, is that it is biodegradable, and can be remolded any number of times.

Below is a video of molding the material:

Update 9: May 29th 2017 (Ball and Socket attachment, and refined parts)

Part 1: Rapid Prototype of Spring based Ball and Socket attachment

Our 3D printed parts have come out of the lye bath (since we used a high end printer for better fidelity of parts and higher tolerance). The spring was of non standard size, so we had to print it using a flexible material called TPU. The parts needed to be assembled and then attached to the newly created base for the cane. In the image below you can see the assembled parts:

In the video below, you can see the attachment in action. This attachment will be fixed to the cane:

Part 2: Refined parts and notes from comments

Things we gained from the OpenIDEO community through meetups and comments below:

  • Thinking about assessing how the handle grip needs to be comfortable
  • Discovering various materials that could be used to improve the cane
  • Making cane parts that feature a variety of colours and personalizing features
  • Testing the idea with different shoe soles
  • Go through patents existing for canes
  • Consider the finances involved so that the cane is affordable
  • Keeping it simple and user friendly

Things we will be doing in the upcoming days:

  • Assemble the entire cane with the new handle and ball & socket attachment
  • Test it at the senior center
  • Do some other Engineering tests to determine the durability such as vibration tests
  •  Make the electronic components minimal and reduce false positive alerts
  • Check with seniors and caregivers if they are interested in a background alerting app and develop one
  • Make a minimally viable product

Our thought:

The elderly will only need one cane that already includes the ball and socket joint and the remoldable comfortable handle. 

Different bases are the things that make the cane all-terrain and affordable. 

The added advantage is that multiple people can use the same cane due to its modularity!

Finally, here are the three refined attachments for our prototype in one image:


On behalf of my team members Dawn, Grace, Sepehr, and Cesar, I would like to thank the OpenIDEO community, the NYU Tandon MakerSpace, the NYU GreenHouse, DFA NYU, the Weinberg Center for balanced living, our mentor, our advisors, and peers who supported us by giving us feedback, prototyping resources, and insights.


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We are going to do a small workshop to test our prototype at a senior center in the next few weeks to see how comfortable the users will be with using a different kind of cane.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1. Where to source light weight materials? 2. What kind of structural analysis of the materials should be done for the shaft of the cane? 3. How to reduce the false negative alert signals being sent to the elderly person's care taker? 4. How to make the design more therapeutic, so that the users are comfortable while using the cane?

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration

Tell us about your work experience:

We are NYU students & Design for America members, building a mobility device for the elderly. We study healthcare, design, engineering, & computer science. We have built an ergonomic walker prototype for Medline in a challenge (Fall 2016). We are mentored by a Physical Therapist at Wartburg Center

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone?

Many elderly own numerous canes to use on different kinds of terrain, this can get very expensive. We've developed an all-terrain cane with interchangeable bases that are safe, affordable, and effective.

How does your idea demonstrate our Criteria of Affordability?

Many elderly own numerous canes to use on different terrain, this can get very expensive. Our solution offers those in need of a cane an affordable option that addresses their need for an ergonomic cane that can handle different surfaces safely and effectively. Instead of buying different canes for different situations, they can buy one cane with interchangeable bases that are affordable and easily replaced.

How does your idea demonstrate or plan to demonstrate scalability?

Our solution is not only scalable, given that the cane, bases, and other features can be mass produced and assembled in manufacturing warehouses, but also highly modular. One cane with many different bases for different kinds of grounds!

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

We will measure the impact of our cane be determining if individuals in need of a cane find that our cane offers them an increasing sense of stability and if our cane has led to a decrease in falls.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Our immediate next steps after the challenge would be to continue to conduct user research and take insights gained to improve upon our prototype, developing it into a market sound minimum viable product (this process should never end as we want to continuously improve and innovate to remain useful, competitive, & relevant). We will continue to develop relationships with manufacturers as we try to bring down production costs so that we can pass those savings on to our customers


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Photo of Srijay


I did not think of this question before. How does the sensor handle if there is mud or dirt.

- Srijay


Photo of Rodney Lobo

Hi Srijay  Thank you for taking the time to comment.

The sensor works on the principle of detecting the reflected light. When the sensor emits a beam of light on any surface (including mud or dirt), a part of the light is absorbed by the surface, another part transmitted, and the remaining is reflected back. The reflected light is detected by the sensor's detector part.

It works similar to the proximity sensor of smart phones. However, instead of measuring how close an object is, the reverse proximity sensor that we have tested, measure how far the surface is.

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