University of the West of England (UWE) student and entrepreneur, Neha Shahid Chaudhry has invented a ‘smart’ mobility aid to help those suffering with Parkinson’s.
“My aim is to make [Parkinson’s sufferers] lives a bit better while they are dealing with it”
Inspired by her grandfather who suffered from the disease, Neha founded the startup Walk to Beat – which is now based at robotics incubator Bristol Robotics Lab – and designed a special walking-stick which helps sufferers to get moving again when stiffness or joint seizure occurs while walking, a common and debilitating symptom of Parkinson’s.
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Since then the device has been successfully tested among dozens of Parkinson’s patients, and the NHS and Parkinson’s UK charity has expressed an interest in the product.
How it all started: Check out this interview with Neha for more
information on Walk to Beat and her smart walking-stick design
The device works by detecting when a user’s limbs have frozen and they cannot continue walking. Recognising a pause in motion, the stick vibrates to help the patient regain their rhythm and get moving again.
Discreet tech: Neha’s design fits all the necessary tech into the handle of the walking stick
Neha says: “There isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s – medication just prolongs the condition and helps you stay alive for longer. My aim is to make [Parkinson’s sufferers] lives a bit better while they are dealing with it.”
As well its practical purpose, the device (pictured below) was also designed to reduce stigma by resembling a traditional walking stick as much as possible so as to not draw unwanted attention to the user.
“The beat can only be felt by the user – it cannot be heard or seen”
Neha explains: “More than the disease itself, a big problem is the impact on social lives. Some other products for people with Parkinson’s have a stigma attached to them – they look like products for disabled people. Because one of the symptoms is a tremor, patients drink from sippy cups and use children’s cutlery because it is easier to grip, but that seemed undignified to me.
“I wanted to design something that was aesthetically pleasing and discreet, so I could solve a problem in an almost secret way. The beat can only be felt by the user – it cannot be heard or seen.”
South West tech support
As well as receiving support from the Bristol Robotics Lab and UWE Enterprise, Neha was supported by the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF) in developing her walking stick’s sensor and producing a final prototype device.
“The Walk to Beat walking stick can make a real difference to the lives of people suffering from Parkinson’s”
Farid Dailami, Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing based at RIF, adds: “The Walk to Beat walking stick can make a real difference to the lives of people suffering from Parkinson’s, and we are looking forward to providing further support in helping realise its potential.”
In addition to practical and technical support, Neha was also able to access £15,000 in funding from UWE Bristol’s Better Together Fund to take her idea from concept to reality.
Mhairi Threlfall, Enterprise Development Manager at UWE Bristol, said: “Neha’s passion driven by personal experience to tackling problems associated with Parkinson’s is astounding. She has worked tirelessly to produce her product and develop her business plan. We are supporting her now to look at how this fantastic creation can be commercialised.”