Chantilly High Seniors Seek Patent for Automatic Walker Designed to Help Parkinson's Patients
Kaavya Karthikeyan and Akanksha Tibrewala, both 17, have been friends since preschool – attending Greenbriar West Elementary School, Rocky Run Middle School, and now Chantilly High together. They also live on the same block. With a little extra time on their hands in the height of the pandemic, the two neighbors started playing around with modifying a traditional walker to make it more helpful to people with Parkinson’s. “We wanted to do something together, and something that would make a difference,” Akanksha said. “We both want to go into biomedical engineering. In that field you have people who invent things, so we both brainstormed together, and realized we both knew people whose lives were affected by mobility issues.”
Akanksha’s great-grandmother suffers from paralysis on the right side of her body, and Kaavya’s neighbor has a grandfather with Parkinson’s Disease. “Our personal experiences had shed light onto the issue of people with degenerating muscles, it is a huge, huge problem worldwide and we wanted to do something to help address that,” Akanksha said. And so, AutoTrem was born. The walker on wheels will automatically move forward with the press of a button, and is equipped with a sensor at the front that stops movement if an obstacle is detected in its path.
A laser on the top bar of the walker shines light on the ground, and users are directed to try to have their foot reach where the light is – with the goal of increasing stride length over time. The device also includes a theraband at the front of the walker, and users are encouraged to have their knee hit the theraband when moving. “Elderly people tend to slide their feet instead of lifting them, the goal is to get people to lift their knees to hit the band instead of sliding their feet across the ground,” Kaavya says. “All of our features are designed to increase confidence, increase security, and give motivation to move more so instead of losing muscle, they gain muscle.” Their work involved consulting with actual patients at physical therapy offices and senior centers, getting their feedback and making adjustments along the way. “A lot of the feedback we got was so simple: things like please just have one button to start and one to stop,” Akanksha said.
The most popular feature seemed to be the sensor that detects obstacles in a person’s path, she added. “The seniors told us it was so, so nice to have a safety feature that will stop it if something gets in their way so they can remain focused on movement,” she said.
The two FCPS students entered their creation this year in the Fairfax Area Student Shark Tank competition, sponsored by the Fairfax Area 50+ Technology Committee, and came away the big winners with a $2500 cash prize for their efforts. Akanksha and Kaavya say their work isn’t over yet though.
They hope to put their winnings towards the patent process, they say. “We are so invested in this, we definitely want to take it to the next level,” Akanksha says.
“There is nothing like it out there,” Kaavya says. “An automatic walker seems like a simple fix but there is really nothing on the market right now. So: we want to make it AutoTrem.”