In 2014, university student Neha Shahid Chaudhry received a life-changing end-of-course school assignment: to come up with a solution or devise a product that could solve an existing “real world” problem.
Chaudhry didn’t have to look beyond her own home. As she watched her beloved grandfather struggle with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease, she noticed that he would sometimes get “jammed” in one place and would not be able to step forward, which repeatedly caused him to suffer falls when his joints seized up.
She realized that he needed to find a rhythm or sequence to get started again, because it would act as a reminder to his neurological system. She started thinking about a device that would use a sensor to detect when a user’s limbs had frozen, then deliver a small vibration to help reestablish rhythm and prompt the user to continue walking. From this inspiration, she created Walk to Beat.
Walk to Beat is a “smart stick” that resembles a conventional walking stick but has sophisticated technology integrated into the plastic handle, including a sensor which can detect when the user has stopped taking steps. Once it has identified a pause, the stick emits a pulsating beat, which prompts the user to resume walking. So, it senses when the user stops, sends a rhythmic reminder to the user’s hand, and then turns off automatically when steps continue.
Originally from Pakistan, Chaudhry is a product design technology graduate from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol). She is now a 23-year-old entrepreneur, heading up her Walk to Beat startup company. Walk to Beat is being supported by and developed with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and has received a £15,000 grant from UWE Bristol’s Better Together Fund to help bring her concept to fruition.
Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year, and this number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected. In the UK, around 127,000 people suffer from Parkinson’s, and roughly half of these experience joint freezing that can seriously effect their ability to walk. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease.
In an interview with the UWE newspaper, The Engineer, Chaudhry said, “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 their lives a bit better while they are dealing with it.” Walk to Beat has garnered attention and praise from both Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) and Parkinson’s UK. In trials, patients say it encourages them to walk and they learn to pace with it.
You can read more about Walk to Beat and read updates at http://walktobeat.co.uk/.