UCLA partners with startup to build smart, connected cane

By Jonah Comstock
03:00 am
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isowalk_hires_compositeThe University of California at Los Angeles Wireless Health Institute has teamed up with smart cane startup Isowalk to create a sensor-laden cane that could be used to predict falls or help speed up recovery for injured athletes.

CEO Ron Goldberg began developing the Isowalk cane in 2010, and launched an Indiegogo campaign this past summer. Although the Indiegogo campaign included a paragraph about the possibility of Bluetooth connectivity, Goldberg's original smart cane was merely an engineering innovation.

"It's a pretty radical redesign of the cane," Goldberg told MobiHealthNews. "It's self propulsive. It kind of moves with you and for you."

Goldberg's Indiegogo campaign only raised $11,000 out of a $185,000 goal.

"In a general sense, I believe the crowdfunding crowd is kind of young and not necessarily consumed with thoughts of aging, and injury, and disability," Goldberg said, explaining why he thought the campaign didn't do well. But, he said, the campaign paid off in other ways.

"[UCLA] had been working on a gait analysis technology which they had validated in the field and they didn't really have an appropriate carrier for this technology, because a conventional cane is just too crude," he said. "When they saw Isowalk, they were very impressed by what we had mapped out in terms of what a better walking aid could be. They reached out and asked if we could collaborate on the project. They thought it was a great match."

UCLA and Isowalk will incorporate accelerometers and gyroscopes into the cane, allowing it to collect gait data and send it to an app or the cloud to be analyzed.

"The collaboration between electrical engineering and the UCLA medical school really found an intriguing application for this working with geriatrics and stroke recovery," Goldberg said. "The opinion was arrived at that human gait is a primary indicator of wellness, but it has never been quantified before. There's never been anything but anecdotal data."

By presenting a quantified measure of gait, the Isowalk could be used as a screening tool to determine whether an elderly person can live at home safely or should move into assisted living. It could help athletes or other patients recovering from injuries get a clearer timetable of their recovery. A regular user's doctor could be alerted of a significant change or deterioration in their gait. For a consumer version, Goldberg has ideas of adding a PERS button or an automatic alert system for friends and family when the cane goes unused for too long.

The Isowalk is currently registered as a Class I device with the FDA. Goldberg said some applications, particularly clinical ones, may require the device to also secure 510(k) clearance as a Class II device, and UCLA is currently working on those applications. He foresees a third quarter 2014 release for the device.