What is it?

The Evolvable Walking Aid is a modular range of parts which can be assembled to form a walking stick, crutches, a walking frame, or variations of these aids. It saves user from having to buy a whole new walking aid when their mobility condition changes.

How does it work?

The range of parts can be assembled to make different types of walking aid to offer different levels of support, depending on what the user’s needs. “It’s a bit like a Lego kit in that sense,” says inventor Cara O’Sullivan. “The locking mechanism is the same as typical walking aids so it’s easy to learn how to assemble.”

Who’s behind it?

Cara O’Sullivan along with industrial designers from Brunel University London, Dot Wheeler and Katey Fitton. The team is part of the Central Research Laboratory hardware incubator.

Cara gained an interest in inclusive design through an internship at the medical engineering charity MERU, during her Industrial Design and Technology degree at Brunel. After seeing the types of equipment patients were using in mobility rehabilitation centres, she realised many walking aids shared the same components but were just put together in different ways. For her final year project, she invented an adaptable wooden walking aid kit to provide affordable mobility equipment for people living in poverty in developing regions of the world. The Evolvable Walking Aid is “the offspring” of that project, says Cara.

In the UK there are over 4.3 million walking aid users and many will require more than one aid as their condition changes. With so many different types of walking aids out there, Cara had to focus her product by talking to physiotherapists to learn which types of walking aids are most commonly used. She created a minimum viable product that could be adapted into each of these and easily used by community-based physiotherapists on home visits.

The plan is to introduce the Evolvable Walking Aid to users through physiotherapists who can use it as an assessment tool and prescribe it to patients. Once patients know how to use it correctly they can buy new parts themselves, from mobility shops or from the online platform which Cara plans to set up in the future.

The Inclusive Technology Prize finalist funding has been put towards research and prototyping to get the concept off the ground. The funding has allowed Cara to get structural analysis and engineering support to transform the Evolvable Walking Aid from an idea to a business with a working prototype. An additional £35,000 was awarded to the team at the prize awards ceremony in March 2016.

The team plans to make the Evolvable Walking Aid available in a variety of colour options so users can mix and match to make a walking aid that best suits them. Feedback from user testing showed that people wanted more stylish aids, instead of the “dull grey ones” they are typically supplied with. “We’d like to give walking aid users more control and choice,” says Cara, “instead of just having to put up with a standard product."

The aim of the Inclusive Technology Prize was to inspire technological innovation from individuals and small businesses to improve or develop assistive living aids, adaptations, products and systems that will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people.