Cities are undeniably congested, fast-paced and full of obstacles – making them ever harder to navigate for people with disabilities. In fact, a 2017 survey taken in the UK found that adults who have difficulties with mobility took 39% fewer trips than those without, making a significant case for city accessibility to be transformed using smart solutions and assistive tech.
Well, things are moving in the right direction. Stairs can be a big hurdle for wheelchair users but now there is a wheelchair with rubber tracks that can climb them. Scewo, a start-up company has developed a wheelchair that can be controlled using a smartphone, with stairs being just one of the range of terrains it can tackle. And it’s expected to be distributed to users by the end of 2019.
Next is wearable tech. MyoSwiss, a Zurich-based start-up has developed, with a combination of textiles and robotics, an exomuscle suit that weighs less than 5kg. It is designed to add a layer of muscle, supporting movements and providing stability for people who can walk to some extent. By using sensors at the knee and hip, it detects movements the user wants to make and helps accordingly.
Interestingly, the WeWalk smart stick has an ultrasonic sensor that detects obstacles above chest level and uses vibrations to warn the user. By pairing with a smartphone, it can also help navigation and has voice-assisted integration to Google Maps. In addition, connection with the IoT could mean that it provides information such as which shops are nearby or which the bus, train or exit is approaching.
So, while exciting high-tech solutions are making cities easier for people with disabilities, the downside, of course, is cost as this tech may well be prohibitively expensive for many people.
Whilst anything that helps people navigate a city environment is positive, it’s worth considering that there should also be a focus on inclusive design that makes the technology far more widely accessible to users.
Lewis Reed Group
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