Engineering Design Challenge: A smart walking cane or stick

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In the past few weeks, we’ve watched some elders in our family struggle with moving around with their cane. As we did, we realized that the design could be changed a little to make the walking cane “smarter” to be able to solve some of the issues they are facing.

We also found a related engineering design challenge on one of our favorite websites TryEngineering and will use this as a template for ideas: http://tryengineering.org/lessons/cane.pdf

The process:

  • An iterative Engineering design process.
  • Start building requirements based on what we know so far.
  • We will seek input from our immediate circle of family and friends, then ask some others in the community for more input.
  • Refine requirements based on input.
  • Research existing solutions to see if they fit the requirements.

We will keep updating this page and related pages as we design this so stay tuned!

Design challenge – scope:

Design a walking stick or cane that is stable, comfortable, and durable and provides features that are helpful to the elderly and anyone with a disability that can be helped by a cane.

Design challenge – not in scope:

  • Canes for hikers, trekkers and climbers who need a walking cane for support on uneven terrain. This is not in scope for our current challenge.
  • Canes for visually impaired people have a different design need (longer, thinner, need to help the user “feel the path” so possibly use a different mix of materials, specific color white). While we would like to explore this in a future engineering design challenge, this is not in scope for our current challenge.
  • High-tech gadgets with Bluetooth and GPS built in – these look super-useful but are futuristic and we don’t have access to that kind of technology. We’ll leave these to the amazing technology inventors, and focus on something that’s relatively inexpensive.

Initial Requirements

  • Stable
  • Comfortable
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
  • Needs extra features that are helpful for elderly users. Examples –
    • A hook to turn light switches on and off
    • A flash light
    • A buzzer or alarm if they need attention (fell down and can’t get up or feel dizzy, etc.)
    • Ability to fold?

Research – Cane Designs

So, we’ve seen various kinds of walking canes used by elderly members of our family, some neighbors, sometimes strangers in parks, shopping areas, or buses.

  • The cane base provides stability to the user and there are many different kinds of cane bases.
  • The cane handle provides ergonomic support and should be comfortable to the hand holding it.
© Amazon and seller. A simple, widely used design of walking cane

Design 1: Standard crook wooden cane

This is the simplest form of walking cane.

  • Inexpensive ~ $10
  • Simple curved handle
  • Straight body
  • Height not adjustable – 36 inches
  • Simple rubber tip to prevent slipping
  • Made of wood; very light weight (1 lb.), weight capacity ~ 250 pounds.
  • Not foldable

 

 

© Amazon and manufacturer. A simple curved aluminum cane

Design 2: Standard crook aluminum cane

This is the simplest form of walking cane.

  • Inexpensive ~ $10
  • Simple curved handle with foam grip. The foam’s softness helps reduce fatigue on hand.
  • Straight body
  • Adjustable height – 29 to 38 inches. Locking ring ensures height is selected and locked.
  • Sturdy, wide rubber tip to prevent slipping
  • Made of aluminum; very light weight (1 lb.), weight capacity ~ 300 pounds.
  • Not foldable

 

 


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