Laser shoes win UK independent living competition

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A pair of laser shoes designed to help Parkinson’s sufferers overcome difficulties in walking have been chosen as one of the ten winners of a new UK competition to develop products for independent living.

The competition was set by the UK’s Design Council and MedCity, the Mayor of London’s life sciences promotional organisation, in a bid to find new inventions that have the potential to be commercialised which could help people stay independent for longer as they get older or develop debilitating illnesses.

A range of technologies, which also included a Meccano-style walking aid kit and a glove that steadies the hand of people with Parkinson’s, were showcased at the inaugural MedTechSouthEast pitching event at the Royal College of General Practitioners in London on 10 November.

A judging panel led by Roger Highfield, science journalist, broadcaster and director of external affairs at London’s Science Museum, selected the 10 winners who will now receive mentoring from some of Design Council’s experts to develop and commercialise their products.

John Mathers, chief executive of Design Council said: ‘Technology can be a vital tool in retaining our quality of life as we get older. MedTechSouthEast has highlighted some of the fantastic pool of innovation talent we have in Britain, this programme will now harness it and develop these fantastic ideas. We need to increase the convergence of tech and design to create usable, accessible, human-centred devices and systems that will help us all retain our quality of life as we age.’

Lise Pape was the finalist who developed ‘Path Finder' which aims to tackle ‘freezing of gait’ (FoG) – a common challenge for people with Parkinson’s, who describe it as the feeling that their feet are glued to the floor. The symptom is one of the main causes of falls in people with Parkinson’s, and significantly affects their confidence in attempting to walk.

Simple visual cues such as lines on the floor to step over have been shown to improve mobility and reduce FoG, thought to be because they help the brain to visualise and focus on the act of walking. Pape’s solution is a pair of shoes with lasers at the front which project green lines ahead as the person walks, activated by a sensor in each heel that monitors the user’s walking pattern and pace. Early clinical trials have found users reported a decrease of up to 55 per cent in time spent frozen compared to total walking time.

Another finalist was Cara O’Sullivan, who has developed a DIY kit that allows people to build their own bespoke walking aid. The industrial design and technology graduate created the Evolvable Walking Aid Kit after finding that the lack of adaptability in walking aids meant people going through rehabilitation or with a worsening condition are likely to switch between three different devices to get the right support, with significant effects on cost and confidence.

The 10 winners will now take part in an intensive accelerator programme led by design experts and medtech industry leaders. The programme will give teams an understanding of how to use design to fast-track the commercialisation of their innovations. They will learn how to better plan, prototype and effectively communicate their products, maximising impact and managing risks.

The 10 winning MedTechSouthEast companies are:

  • Dermaspray – An automated, spray-on medication reducing inflammation and pain in people with arthritis, while avoiding the side-effects of oral tablets
  • Dolman Plug & Socket – a plug and socket system that can be pushed in or removed with little effort designed for people with poor grip
  • Esher’s Maternity & Menstrual Solutions – disposable leak-proof absorbent briefs for women during periods or after childbirth
  • Evolvable Walking Aid Kit – a ‘build- it- yourself’ walking aid kit to overcome to lack of adaptability in walking frames, crutches or sticks as people’s needs change or children grow
  • GyroGear – gyroscope and sensor technology in a glove to combat hand tremor in people with conditions such as Parkinson’s
  • HeliconLiveLong – online tool to help interdisciplinary care teams manage the health of elderly people with multiple conditions more effectively and easily
  • Integro Smart Box – a system to manage the need to take multiple drugs that sends an alert to family or carers via text or email when medication is late or missed  
  • Path Finder – shoes that incorporate laser and sensor technology to emit lines ahead as users walk to tackle ‘freezing of gait’ in people with Parkinson’s
  • Speak Set – video calling via the TV to help elderly people easily keep in touch with caregivers and family
  • Strawz – fixed-dose medicine dispenser to ensure accurate doses 

Further information

Design Council