A team of senior engineering students earlier this month won the University of Colorado Boulder’s New Venture Challenge with an idea that could improve how people use walkers.
Stride Tech is a device that measures how people use walkers and provides feedback for users and clinicians. CEO and a senior in the engineering plus degree track Tim Visos-Ely said it could help people walk more safely and decrease their dependence on walkers.
Visos-Ely said he was inspired to pursue the idea because of his grandma, who has fallen while using a walker several times.
“Walkers are given to people to help them not fall,” he said. “And they’re just not working.”
Visos-Ely teamed up with engineering plus seniors Max Watrous and Humsini Acharya and mechanical engineering seniors Tom Saunders and Andrew Plum in their “Engineering for Social Innovation”class this year. They began to develop the idea to enter the challenge this spring.
The team won $100,000 as part of the grand prize, and plans to work on Stride Tech following graduation.
“The reason I got into engineering is to be able to help people, and that’s exactly what I get to do coming out of college,” said Acharya, the chief resource officer on the project.
Visos-Ely said he got the idea after creating a new walker design for Medline, a health care products manufacturer. After pitching the idea to research and design at the company, Visos-Ely said he was told it would take five to 10 years to develop.
“I said, ‘That’s insane. That’s a whole generation of old people who are using a device that’s damaging to them,’” he said.
So he decided to work on a wearable device instead.
The device attaches to the base of the walker and uses an ultrasonic sensor to sense leg motion and gait. It also comes with grips for the walker that sense weight distribution. If there’s more than a 10% difference, which can hurt the body over time, the grips will vibrate.
If working constantly, the battery will last for 11 hours. However, the device automatically turns off when the user isn’t moving, and the battery lasts 125 days on low power.
Acharya said the project was appealing to her because it combined her interests in biology and engineering.
“A really big issue with rehabilitation is bringing those rehabilitation practices into real life,” she said. “When I heard of this project I thought, ‘This is exactly what we’re trying to do with rehabilitation in real life.’”
Visos-Ely pitched the idea at the challenge, which consists of several rounds of five-minute pitches and five-minute question-and-answer sessions. While a lot was on the line, Visos-Ely said he started pitching to people in his network three times per week, six weeks before the competition.
“I was just getting as much feedback as I could,” he said.
Acharya thought their team was the underdog going into the challenge.
“I did not think we’d get this far,” she said.
With the challenge prize money, Visos-Ely said he plans to pursue the project after he graduates. The team will finish researching the project and run a pilot program with 50 walker users at Sunrise Senior Living in Westminster. Once they perfect the product, they will launch it.
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, email@example.com