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An Assistive Device for Curb & Elevation Detection

A flexible assistive device that prevents falls by detecting changes in elevation giving users greater awareness of their surroundings

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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 assistive device is designed for the aging population with mobility constraints with or without visual impairments. According to AARP, 25% of falls are due to curbs and steps i.e., changes in elevation. To solve this, my device alerts users changes in elevation like curbs, steps, and stairs. It helps alleviate concerns of not being able to see step ups and step downs which allows users to continue active living without concerns of falling. The product is a cost effective, discrete wearable.

According to the National Council on Aging, 25% of the population above the age of 65 fall every year. Other studies show that falls account for 25% of all hospital admissions and 40% of all nursing home admissions. 40% of those admitted do not return to independent living and 25% die within a year. Unknown and unpredictable changes in terrain are a significant cause of falls in older adults and the fear of such falls severely impacts active living. When talking to many members of the blind community, they expressed that one of their primary fears is changes in elevation and that they knew people whose lives had been lost due to tripping over curbs. My goal is to remove the guesswork out of navigating elevation changes by having vulnerable populations use a simple assistive device that can be worn on their clothing or mounted to a cane or walker to alleviate their fears.

During outdoor activities, be it walking around the neighborhood or going to the grocery store, the most prominent unknown and unpredictable elevation change is a curb. Older adults, especially those using canes, are most susceptible to falls caused by curbs and some lead to fatalities. According to the CDC, 19% of pedestrian fatalities are of people in the 65+ population. Vision and tactile detection are the two main ways to detect a curb. If someone has problems with their vision, using their eyes to notice curbs can be challenging. As for tactile detection, bumping into curbs can cause instability leading to a fall. Though tactile paving can help with identifying the end of sidewalks and possibly prevent hazardous step downs a lot of seniors have reduced sensation in their feet making it harder to detect step downs.

Indoors, a variety of elevation changes like stairs and step ups and downs between rooms can be trip hazards thus leading to falls. Even if older adults learn to navigate these changes in elevation in their own home they may be fearful of unknown locations due to the unknown terrain. This fear of falling may prevent them from going to new public or private locations like museums and homes of friends and family.

 My assistive device uses a combination of sensors and precision measurement algorithms to detect the changes in elevation. Once the curb or step is detected, the user is alerted to the presence of the change in elevation via haptic feedback. Due to the simplistic design and a straightforward feedback loop, the response to the detections is fast and reliable. There is no complex programming or syncing to devices needed to get started. This minimal learning curve makes the device extremely user-friendly to the senior population. The low manufacturing cost (<$50) makes it affordable for older adults who may have limited incomes. Additionally, the device is designed to be discrete so it has less stigma associated with it. 

All in all, the device assists the user in the most effective and efficient manner keeping their needs and limitations at the focal point. The invention helps imbibe the senior with a sense of autonomy. This sense of autonomy and independence positively impacts their spirits and morale which in turn has a positive impact on their health. This device grants the autonomy to the elderly population helping them interact with the world without the fear of falling. 

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

I have personally tested this assistive device in a single controlled environment with a 97% accuracy rate. The best way to test the device with the target population is to set up a controlled course. The users with mobility constraints and possible visual impairments will test the prototype by navigating the course with and without the assistive device. The data collected on the accuracy of the navigation with and without the device will help me make refinements and test in the real world.

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

Ways the OpenIDEO community can help me with my device: • Integrate the device into the existing life of the target population • Make the device more user-friendly while lowering costs • Better understanding… o …the needs of the target market here and abroad o …the environmental conditions in different parts of the world that may affect the usability and longevity of the device o …the unusual and unique terrains in various geographical locations that users may encounter

How long has your idea existed?

  • 4 months - 1 year

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a junior in high school. I have worked on various hardware and software assistive devices. I attended a boot-camp by IDEO in 2016 where I was introduced to human-centric design principles. My projects have ranged from assistive devices to web apps to help people. More info at techfilmer.com

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