The Braze Mobility Blog

 

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HELLO, TOMORROW!

03/01/2020

Robotics have the potential to impact CRT in a big way. How are startups and researchers tackling the complicated landscape?

When Dan Ding first started as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, she had never heard the term “rehabilitation robotics.” She attended robotics conferences while earning her Ph.D. in Hong Kong, but rarely saw sessions on healthcare applications, much less the type of work that would soon change the complex rehab technology (CRT) industry.

“I don’t think at the time the term was coined,” Ding, now an associate professor in the university’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, told Mobility Management. “I definitely witnessed the whole growth of this technology’s involvement in rehabilitation and assistive technology, so I feel very fortunate that, before that happened, I was able to get into this field.”

Ding’s early experiences are a far cry from the landscape of robotics in complex rehab today, where new startups have introduced technology ranging from eye-gaze wheelchair controls to blind-spot sensors that can be mounted on several parts of a power chair. Large manufacturers are following suit by integrating new developments, such as patient monitoring technology, into their seat cushions and chairs.

While there is a sense of unlimited possibilities for the applications of robotic technology, experts in the field say there are also immense challenges facing the industry, particularly in terms of the high costs for patients seeking the latest equipment and the regulatory hurdles for CRT companies trying to bring innovative products to market.

Braze Mobility Sensor System

Braze Mobility’s sensor system

For Pooja Viswanathan, the CEO and founder of the Toronto-based blind-spot sensor manufacturer Braze Mobility, the CRT industry is just “skimming the surface” of what’s possible in terms of finding solutions for patients.

“I think there’s tremendous opportunity for growth as long as it’s customer-centric,” Viswanathan said in an interview. “The challenge in robotics is that it often ends up being a technology push. As long as the focus stays on the problems rather than the solutions and on the customer rather than the developer, there is tremendous opportunity.”

A WINDING ROAD FOR IBOT & TOYOTA

The path for robotics in complex rehab has been long and winding over the past two decades, including the widely publicized production (and later discontinuation) of the iBOT stair-climbing wheelchair system.

In 2003, Independence Technology — a division of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson — introduced the iBOT to rave reviews from mainstream media, who hailed the wheelchair as a revolutionary device that “will force [wheelchair users] to reconsider virtually all the presumed boundaries in the world,” according to one Dateline NBC reporter.

But as Mobility Management reported at the time, Independence Technology hit several snags in its quest to sell the iBOT directly to consumers via clinician assessment and cut CRT providers from the distribution chain. The chair cost $26,000 at the time the company ceased production in 2009, and Medicare declined to classify its seat elevation or stairclimbing abilities as “medically necessary.” While popular with veterans and some clinicians, the iBOT also did not offer typical rehab functions, such as tilt, recline or elevating legrests. In addition, users needed the ability to use a traditional joystick.
Mobius Mobility iBOT

Mobius Mobility’s iBOT

In turn, Independence Technology struggled to sell the chair, citing low demand before dissolving in 2009. The iBOT has continued to be revived by other companies, including Toyota North America and most recently by Mobius Mobility, which began promoting the chair last year with some added rehab functions.

Toyota is no longer involved with the iBOT nearly four years after signing an agreement with inventor Dean Kamen to develop the “next generation” of iBOT, according to Doug Moore, GM, Technology for Human Support at Toyota North America. Instead, Toyota has been at work on several mobility-related projects, demonstrating the Japanese mega-corporation’s commitment to becoming a “mobility company” rather than an automotive company, Moore said.

“We have been spending a ton of time, especially in this complex rehab area, making sure that we understand the real needs,” Moore told Mobility Management in an interview. “We’ve been looking at the end customers, whether it’s direct users, caregivers, care receivers or ATPs, PTs, DMEs, all these individuals. We’ve been having conversations across the whole world to understand what are the real challenges and what are the real needs that are out there.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in January, Toyota’s display featured examples of mobility products that would be included in the company’s ideal “Woven City.” Those products included the Human Support Robot (HSR), an AI robot with voice-control capability, and a wheelchair-link battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed for “those who have difficulty walking and those in wheelchairs,” according to a press release.

Moore, who has risen to the top of the robotics team since joining Toyota in 2011, stopped short of committing to any mobility product releases from the company. He noted his experience working on Project BLAID, a wearable device for blind and visually impaired people that the company first publicized in 2016. While that and other mobility products have not been released yet, showcasing that Toyota is focused on developing inclusive products is important, Moore said.

“I’ve intentionally tried to make sure we don’t over-promise and under-deliver, because there’s still a lot of thinking that has to go into these platforms to make sure we can execute it right,” Moore said. “We want to show people that we are thinking and considering the true needs and the true value of what it means to bring solutions to the whole broad community, but at the same time we have to be careful and cautious about what we put out there.”

ROBOTICS PRODUCTS COME TO COMPLEX REHAB

Robotics engineers in the CRT and mobility world have one trait in common: a desire to see their algorithms and technical work turn into an application that changes people’s lives.

For Jay Beavers, a co-founder and managing member of Seattle-based Evergreen Circuits, the inspiration came from Steve Gleason, the former NFL player turned ALS activist. When Gleason challenged a group of Microsoft employees to create a system allowing him to drive his wheelchair with his eyes, they answered the call.

After Microsoft decided not to proceed into the medical device sector, Beavers and his partners created their own company and began to sell the Independence Drive system, which combines a power wheelchair, tablet computer and eye-tracking camera, in 2018.

“The thing that I think robotics will do that will really impact this industry is provide for more independent living and reduce the need for 24-hour caregivers,” Beavers said in an interview. “Japan is kind of on the cusp of this because they’re ahead of us in terms of having an aging population and not having enough caregivers. We in the U.S. are going to need to address the same issue in the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the biggest opportunity.”

Read the full article here: https://mobilitymgmt.com/Articles/2020/03/01/Robotics.aspx

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Image with the accessibility symbol and the words Accessible Design

All About Accessible Design

02/04/2020

When I joined Braze Mobility, I found all discussion of the design process fascinating, and the iterations undertaken by the design team are a great study in accessible design. The following blog series will discuss Universal Design and Accessible Design, and will profile some great design concepts that inspire and help.

There is no such thing as disability, only poor design*. Of course, some people have a harder time navigating the built environment than others, and there are people who have physical and cognitive abilities that change the way in which they interact with the world.

But, when a person is unable to go into a restaurant because someone built stairs instead of a ramp, is it their disability holding them back, or the short-sightedness of the architect who failed to realize not everyone gets around using two legs? Likewise, if someone who is on the Autism spectrum has difficulty visiting a shopping mall at during the holiday times, the poor overstimulating design is to blame for their inability to interact with the environment.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

The world is beginning to become more accessible. Governments are producing legislation that forces businesses to ensure their premises are as accessible as possible, such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Ensuring that spaces and products are able to be used specifically by people with disabilities is important. People regardless of ability and mobility should have the same opportunities to succeed and interact with their environment, no question. Ensuring that a business is accessible also benefits the business itself. By being inaccessible, not only are you losing the business of the person who can’t get into the store, but also everyone who is with them. Accessible design benefits everyone.

The “Curb Cut” Effect

But, design for people with disabilities has an added benefit- spaces and products designed to be used by people with disabilities also tend to be easier to use for people without disabilities as well. Take the example of the curb cut, for instance. If you haven’t heard the story of the Rolling Quads at Berkeley in the 1970’s, there is a great 99% invisible podcast that outlines the story.

The positive impact of curb cuts benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities. Whether a person using a wheelchair, a parent pushing a stroller, an elderly person wheeling their groceries or just someone crossing the road who doesn’t want to take a step up, curb cuts help make travelling on sidewalks easier. Studies have shown that 90% of people will alter their course to use a curb cut instead of stepping up onto a curb, regardless of physical ability.

This phenomenon is known as the “curb cut effect”, and is a widespread aspect of design.

So, how can we design things to be universally accessible, and therefore a better design for everyone? Follow the Mobility blog series to follow our accessible design process! Braze Mobility would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts about accessible design.

*This statement is intended to demonstrate the necessity of considering all abilities in design, and how good design can enable all people to interact with their environment. It is not intended to minimize the impact a disability has on someone’s life.

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Image of the wing of an airplane and the words accessible travel

Accessible Travel Ideas

01/28/2020

Everyone needs to get away and escape real life at some point, and no time is better than mid-winter to jet-set away! Travelling as a person with a disability can be difficult- the need to bring extra equipment and airlines who just can’t seem to figure out how to transport wheelchairs without breaking or losing them. The knowledge that your destination will not only be accessible, but fully inclusive makes it all worth it. We put together a list of accessible vacation spots that are fun for the whole family! All of these locations were designed specifically to meet the needs of people with various disabilities and fully include people of all abilities in the activities and fun!

Accessible Travel Destinations In North America
Accessible Travel Destinations In The United States

Magical Bridge Playgrounds in California

The Magical Bridge is an organization that builds accessible parks designed to match the needs of people of all abilities, where everyone has the chance to play and explore! The playgrounds are completely FREE to visit and are located in multiple cities in California, USA. They are rapidly expanding, so keep an eye open for a Magic Bridge opening near you!

Accessible Theme Parks in San Antonio, Texas

In San Antonio TX, there is a fully inclusive theme park and water park called Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island. You can take a spin on the giant Ferris Wheel in your wheelchair, or splash around in a fully accessible pirate ship. The organization also offers discounts for nearby hotels with accessible rooms, so you can plan your trip stress-free! 

Accessible Travel Destinations in Canada

There are many options for summer camps in Canada that are fully accessible for people with disabilities! I have a special place in my heart for Easter Seals Camps, which have both individual sessions for campers aged 8-26, and family camps where the whole family can enjoy camp fun! Check out Easter Seals Camp Woodeden in London- you can climb the largest fully accessible high ropes course in North America, take a dip in the pool, make pottery, bake treats and have a camp out in the fully accessible yurts! 

Easter Seal Camps Across Canada

There are Easter Seals Camps all over Canada- check out your local Easter Seals to learn more!

Alberta

Camp Horizon

British Columbia

Nova Scotia

Camp Tidnish

Ontario

Newfoundland and Laborador

Camp Bumbleberry

Saskatchewan

Camp Easter Seal

British Columbia’s Cold Water Ranch

At the Cold Water Ranch the Abilitas foundation offers a fully accessible vacation home for people with disabilities and their families to go to get a break from real life and have time to bond as a family! Set in the mountains of BC, 30 minutes west of Merritt you can experience the tranquility of a working ranch in a fully accessible lodge. You can stay for up to 4 days, with just a modest fee for booking and cleaning. 

Accessible Travel Destinations In Oceania
Accessible Travel in Australia

Sargood: An Accessible Resort in Sydney, Australia!

Sargood on Collaroy is a purpose built resort for people with a spinal cord injury. Located on the sunny shores of Sydney Australia, Sargood on Collaroy is a great place to escape everyday life, and try out all sorts of new things- surfing, sailing, snorkeling, golf, ceramics, fishing, gardening, kite flying- you name it! All of the activities are run by therapists who specialise in assisting people with spinal cord injury, and adaptive equipment is included!

Sargood on Collaroy is a fully accessible location, and they supply most of the equipment you will need, so you can travel light. There are also attendants on site, who can assist you or you are welcome to bring your own carer! Some funding is available for a stay, although pricing is not available on their site.

Accessible Travel in Europe
Accessible Travel In Sweden

Sweden has made it a goal to be the most accessible place to travel. Check out their accessible travel website which includes a database of accessible locations. Some planning is required, however travelling Sweden with accessibility needs is made much more possible by the huge steps taken by the government and other organizations to improve accessibility and to clearly mark accessible locations. The database shows detailed pictures and descriptions of accessibility features and barriers, and could help plan a great vacation!

Musholm Centre: Stockholm’s Accessible Sport Resort

The Musholm Centre is a new fully accessible sports resort designed for people with disabilities, located 2 hours from Stockholm. The centre provides accessible activities for the whole family including power wheelchair hockey, rock climbing and many other sports and activities. They also provide equipment needed during your trip if you arrange ahead of time so you can pack light! You could tag a stay at the Musholm center onto a tour of Scandinavia, one of the most accessible areas of the world.

Accessible Travel In Asia
Accessible Travel Destinations in Japan

Japan has made big investments in increasing accessibility. Their Accessible Tourism Center provides resources and recommendations for planning a trip. They make recommendations for areas you can visit, including the accessibility requirements for businesses. 

Want to be safer while you travel? The Braze Mobility blind spot sensor systems provide many benefits to travellers who use wheelchairs! Sensors can alert you to pickpockets looking to get into the backpack on the back of your chair, and to navigate unfamiliar spaces! Check out the new Braze Sentina here!

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Image with the words Autonomous Wheelchairs

What Are Autonomous Wheelchairs?

01/15/2020

As self-driving cars begin to enter the market, it becomes increasingly likely that self-driving wheelchairs will be developed. The implications of this are incredible, and will certainly change the way people roll! This blog series will look at where we are now on the journey towards fully autonomous wheelchairs, as well as some of the pros and cons of self-driving chairs. While I am not an expert on robotics (I’ll leave that to our CEO Pooja), I hope that these insights will help you understand what autonomous technology is and can do!

Self-Driving Vehicles: What Are They?

Self-driving vehicles (or autonomous vehicles) are trickling their way into the market slowly, with Google’s Waymo leading the way. The adapted cruise control to maintain distance between 2 vehicles, the lane monitoring software to alert drivers when they are crossing over the line in a road are all already implemented in cars. These technologies make cars safer and easier to drive and are generally considered to be good advances in safety technology. However, trouble arises when you take the human completely out of the equation.

Complete reliance on a computer’s ability to make life-or-death decisions properly raises concerns, and the ethics of programming a computer to make those decisions poses issues. Despite this, self-driving cars have been on the streets for a fair while, logging over 1.9 million miles, and feeding the AI with data about traffic navigation. This process will take years and millions of dollars to reach the point where you could own a car without a steering wheel or brake pedal.

How Do Self-Driving Vehicles Work?

The basic model is that the computer is teaching itself how to drive. By using artificial intelligence (a computer that can teach itself), and inputting millions of hours of driving data into the framework, the computer essentially learns to identify situations. When a car encounters, say a person on the side of the road, it will compare this to the millions of other humans that have been encountered in the past and compute the risk of collision. This will include identifying the probability that the person will step out in front of the car, the speed at which the person is moving, the degree of turning which must occur to avoid the person, the amount of brake that must be applied to avoid hitting them, etc.

The car will also need to calculate whether steering around the person will put the driver or other cars at risk, and if so will require a pre-programmed decision-making process to decide whether to swerve, brake or neither. Of course, it is all infinitely more complicated than this, and there are many other factors being considered. 

But, we aren’t talking about automobiles, we are talking about wheelchairs, which will likely be more difficult to program to drive safely.

Challenges of Autonomous Wheelchairs (That Are Not Like Self-Driving Cars)

Cars operate in fairly controlled environments. On roads, cars and pedestrians observe clear traffic rules (even if they aren’t always followed well- I’m looking at you Toronto drivers!), and although there is some level of unpredictability this is limited.

Wheelchairs, on the other hand should be able to travel anywhere someone could walk, meaning the situations that the wheelchair will encounter are pretty much as diverse, unpredictable and lawless as walking through Union Station during rush hour. Additionally, it is likely that self-driving cars will be able to communicate with each other, creating network effects, and helping cars to avoid colliding with each other. People who drive wheelchairs often face challenges with people not getting out of their way, or even walking right into their chair. Communicating with humans is a difficult challenge for autonomous wheelchairs, as warnings would need to be inclusive of people with low vision and/or hearing. 

Another challenge will be inputting the desired destination for the wheelchair. While cars can be programmed to travel to a specific address, the input for a wheelchair destination is much more complex due to the large diversity of places a wheelchair can travel.

Using Autonomous Wheelchair Technology In Real Life

Take, for example someone at a stadium needs to use the washroom. One possibility is that the person will click a button on their chair that says “bathroom”. The chair will then need to have either a blueprint map of the building, or cameras that can monitor the environment in search of the accessible washroom sign. Using this information, the chair has located the closest washroom!

Specific Variables For Autonomous Wheelchairs To Consider

Now, the computer will decide the optimal path towards that washroom. This will require the computer to know the location of all stairways to avoid, and all ramps and elevators (assuming chairs are unable to climb staircases at this point). The path is set, and the chair begins on its way! Dodging people and alerting them to move out of the way, the chair approaches the bathroom. When it approaches, the chair deploys a signal to the door to open, or a mechanical hand to push to automatic door opener. The chair registers that the door is open and is able to move into the washroom!

Once in the bathroom, the chair must be able to choose between the available stalls to locate the accessible one, and the person using the wheelchair may want to back into a specific bathroom stall at a certain angle to make transferring easier. While the wheelchair driver or a human attendant may be able to use their past experience about the easiest transfer method, and therefore best location to park in, a computer may have difficulty accounting for all variables.

Assuming this chair has learned from its driver, it successfully docks, and the process must be repeated to return the person to their place in the stadium. The complexity of this decision-making process is high, and potential for mistakes is high as well! A wheelchair colliding with a person is dangerous.

Challenges With Creating Autonomous Wheelchairs

A bathroom is an easy target, but what if the driver is hoping to travel to a more specific environment (ie the coffee table to the right of the doorway separating the kitchen and living room)? Considering input method must be adaptable for people who have a difficult time speaking or typing the challenge increases. All of these challenges will be faced by developers looking to create self-driving technology for wheelchairs.  

While Google Maps and other automobile tracking software has been perfecting available maps of streets and traffic, there are no such maps making blueprints of buildings-this means that autonomous vehicle technology must either find ways of interpreting the environment at a human level of understanding (ie- reading signs, sensing walls and obstacles etc), or every building that self-driving wheelchairs are in must be carefully mapped and categorized.

The Future Of Self-Driving Technology (Including Wheelchairs)

All autonomous technology is a challenge. It will be years before self-driving cars begin to emerge on the market. As you can see, self-driving wheelchairs pose even greater of a challenge for software developers and thus will likely take even longer to emerge onto the market.

The benefit that self-driving wheelchairs will inevitably bring to the population who uses them is incredible. Working towards an autonomous future for wheelchair controls is certainly a good thing- but the challenges are real as well. Braze Mobility‘s next post will look at the ethical implications of self driving chairs: the good and the bad

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New Technology Helps Older Canadians Age In Place At Home Safely

12/06/2019

Soon after turning 70, Marianne Buzza knew it was time to downsize. But it wasn’t about the size of the house. “I love to garden and had created a bit of a monster. We needed a smaller yard!” she says with a laugh.

She and her husband, Wally, also wanted to live in the town of Wasaga Beach, ON, so they didn’t have to rely so much on driving. They found a townhouse that’s “perfect for us,” with plenty of extra space in the basement and a loft for visits from the kids and grandkids.

The new home also came with two flights of stairs. While Marianne, now 75, and Wally, 86, are both mobile, they recognized that the stairs put them at greater risk for falls. “A lot of people our age have mobility, but our balance is sometimes not what it used to be. We need that extra bit of stability.”

The couple found the solution in a new product called StairSteady (see below for details), manufactured in Whitby, ON. The fixed handrail uses a moveable support handle for users to grasp when going up or down stairs (see sidebar). “It goes at your pace because it’s not motorized. It can take a lot of weight and you can really lean into it,” says Buzza, adding that it blends right in with the décor. “It will be a selling feature because a lot of retirees move here.”

As more baby boomers enter their 70s and 80s, home safety will become increasingly important. For example, products and services to prevent falls, or to reduce the risk of wandering for people with dementia, are fast becoming available. Perhaps it’s time to update the old saying to, “There’s no place like a safe home.”

And it’s not just about safety. It’s increasingly about building and equipping homes that better support the changing needs of older adults, particularly in the areas of mobility and memory. Such foresight may help avoid moves to retirement homes or assisted living. In fact, Mary Huang, a family caregiver who helped move her 86-year-old mother and 90-year-old father out of their house to a condominium, would describe home-based support as a societal priority.

“Many people have no option but to stay home,” says Huang, an information technology consultant. “Retirement homes are expensive, and the waiting lists for long-term care are crazy. We need to be more creative, and this is where technology can come into play.”

Big plans for high tech

In 2016 Huang became involved with AGE-WELL, a national network of researchers partnering with government, businesses and non-profit organizations to develop innovations that support “aging well,” ideally in the comfort of one’s own home. As a caregiver and with her background in technology, Huang is excited by what’s coming from the network. “It’s good to see the federal government investing money in research outside the current models for healthcare and homecare.”

Smart sensor technology, for example, is a big focus for AGE-WELL. From garbage cans that signal when they need to be emptied to furniture that monitors vital signs and movements, homeowners can live more independently, and caregivers can provide support more efficiently. Artificial intelligence and non-intrusive computer vision will lead to devices, such as “social robots,” that learn people’s habits, interact with them and notify caregivers if issues emerge.

One of the first AGE-WELL products to become commercially available is Braze Mobility’s sensor technology for wheelchairs, to help people (of all ages) navigate their chairs more safely (see below). More than 60 products and services are in the works, all of which aim to transition from research to reality in the near future. “The start-up companies coming out of AGE-WELL are going to accelerate, which will lead to competition and more options for consumers,” says Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, a Toronto-based researcher and CEO of Braze Mobility. “This is especially important for the aging population, because so many of their needs are currently unmet.”

YouAreUNLTD.com is pleased to launch “No Place Like Safe Home,” a series of articles about what you can do to continue living safely and independently at home. Coming next: how building standards are changing, and retrofitting options for your current home.

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Wheelchair Users Enjoy New Freedom, Thanks to “Smart” Sensors from Braze Mobility

10/22/2019

Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO and Co-Founder of Braze Mobility appeared as a guest speaker at AGE-WELL’s National Conference in Vancouver last year. See how she created a new technology to help power wheelchairs and scooters detect obstacles, helping older adults increase their spatial awareness and maintain their independence. Watch the video for some notable highlights.

You can find out more about all the important work AGE-WELL is doing here.

More experts and disruptors will be on hand at the AGE-WELL’s 5th Annual National Conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, from October 22–24, 2019. Get all the details here.

Launched in 2015 through the federally-funded Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program, AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) is Canada’s technology and aging network. AGE-WELL is dedicated to the creation of technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers.

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‘We’re in a good place right now’: Women entrepreneurs share their experiences at U of T event

03/08/2019

Building a startup company is a daunting prospect – often more so if you’re a woman. But things may finally be starting to change.

That was one takeway from a panel discussion, held on the eve of International Women’s Day, featuring three female founders from the University of Toronto.

While all three panellists – Leila KeshavjeeSaara Punjani and Pooja Viswanathan – acknowledged the myriad challenges women founders still face in the business world, two of the entrepreneurs said gender had relatively little to do with the roadblocks they faced while trying to launch their companies. 

“I’ve been lucky to not have the fact that I’m a woman get in my way,” said Punjani, who is the chief operations officer at Structura Biotechnology, which uses artificial intelligence to help pharmaceutical companies visualize proteins for drug discovery.

She attributed her positive experience, in part, to the support of her team, which includes Structura co-founder and CEO Ali Punjani – her brother.

Viswanathan, meantime, credited the fact she had a PhD when she started building “smart” wheelchair company Braze Mobility for helping to dull any gender discrimination she might have faced while dealing with male clients and investors.

“We’re in a good place right now – we’re seeing a lot of support,” said Viswanathan, citing various entrepreneurship programs at U of T and elsewhere in Ontario.

The discussion, part of the RBC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Speakers Series, drew a crowd to U of T’s ONRamp co-working and collaboration space on College Street. It was moderated by Professor Christine Allen of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, who is involved in two startups herself. 

Referring to the new ground each panellist was breaking in their respective sector, Allen called the three entrepreneurs “female pioneers.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smooth sailing gender-wise for the panellists.

Keshavjee said she definitely felt like she was treated differently while trying to get her all-natural ice pops company Happy Pops off the ground. She even recalled dealing with a businessman who didn’t believe Happy Pops was actually her company.

With a bachelor’s in kinesiology from U of T, Keshavjee said things began to change last fall after she appeared on the season premiere of the CBC program Dragon’s Den, walking away with a deal with Arlene Dickinson. But while the show helped elevate her personal brand, Keshavjee said she feels for women entrepreneurs who don’t get similar opportunities.

“Women shouldn’t have to go through that to be credible,” she said.

The bulk of the evening, however, was spent talking about the specific challenges each panellist faced while trying to turn their ideas into a money-making enterprise.

Viswanathan called the experience “terrifying” because she had no idea what to expect each morning when she woke up – a feeling she said continues to this day. Even so, Viswanathan said she is “laser-focused” on trying to solve a problem after witnessing, as an undergraduate student, residents of a long-term care facility slumped over their wheelchairs and unable to get around.

Her solution? Sensors and software that help motorized wheelchair operators navigate their environment, giving them back their freedom.

She heaped praise on the Impact Centre, one of nine on-campus entrepreneurship hubs, for helping her problem-solve a way to a viable product.

“For me, as someone with no business background, that was a home away from home,” she said.

Punjani, similarly, said Structura tapped into the vast expertise at U of T – both while trying to build a product and for getting advice on how to deal with Big Pharma customers. She said the startup received support from UTEST and the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab, or DCSIL, and is benefitting from being based at the nexus of the Toronto’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.

“We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the incubators and accelerators here – and through ONRamp,” she said. “That proximity really helps.”

As for Keshavjee, she also credited the Impact Centre for helping her launch Happy Pops, despite the fact that it’s not a typical, research-based university startup. “They really helped me grow the business,” she said.

That growth appears set to continue. After working with Dickinson’s packaged-goods focused accelerator in Calgary, Keshavjee is now preparing to relaunch the brand this spring.

“We’re projecting half a million in sales this year,” Keshavjee said. “I knew the day would come when we didn’t just have a seasonal business – where it wouldn’t just be a summer treat for kids.”

https://www.utoronto.ca/news/we-re-good-place-right-now-women-entrepreneurs-share-their-experiences-u-t-event

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The Ethical Implication of Autonomous Wheelchairs with two symbols one on the right is of the Scale of Justice and one on the right is the accessibility symbol with a compass in wheel of the chair

The Ethical Implications of Autonomous Wheelchairs

12/10/2018

We talked about what autonomous wheelchairs are, and some of the barriers that will need to be overcome before fully autonomous wheelchairs enter the marketplace in our last blog post. We will now examine some of the ethical limitations of autonomous wheelchairs, as well as the benefits that they will bring to people who use wheelchairs and their caregivers.

Last summer, I went to visit the camp for kids and young adults with physical disabilities that I used to work at. While there, I was heading back with a group to their cabin after a campfire- it was very dark, and the path was unlit. One of the campers that I have known for many years asked if I could navigate his chair through the darkness until we got to an area that was better lit up.

We got chatting, and he told me that he very rarely asks others for help with navigating his wheelchair- unless he feels that there could be danger to himself or others he will maintain control. He said that having grown up all of his life with CP, his power wheelchair is one of the few things that he has total physical control over, and giving up control is almost unthinkable.

This made me stop and think about the future of power mobility, and how it will affect the relationship between a person and their wheelchair.

The Benefits Of Automated Mobility

There are many potential benefits to autonomous power mobility. Power wheelchair accidents are common and can be deadly, especially among the older population. In Canada, falls among elderly people resulted in over 7,000 deaths between 2000-2002 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2005).

In institutions with many elderly people, having an power wheelchair can be seen as a danger to the other residents, and some facilities ban the use of power mobility altogether. Autonomous wheelchairs have the opportunity to prevent accidents, by sensing their environment completely and predicting the safest path, removing or reducing the probability of driver error causing an accident.

Autonomous wheelchairs also have the ability to provide access to independent mobility for people who otherwise need to rely on attendant care to mobilize. Having the ability to move throughout the environment is important for mental health and well-being. For people who do not have access to 24-hour one-on-one care, relying on attendants for mobility could be frustrating. Autonomous wheelchairs would provide independence for the person using the chair, and would reduce the burden on caregivers. Take for example meal times. Often, with limited numbers of staff, getting all residents into place at tables can take up to an hour. With the use of autonomous chairs, that process could be streamlined and staff would be able to focus on getting everyone their food!

Autonomous Wheelchairs Encourage Independent Mobility

Despite these potential positives, the most important factor to consider is the impact for the people who would use the autonomous wheelchairs, including feelings of autonomy and independence. Autonomous chairs must be designed in such a way that people are able to feel that they fully control the chair, and not that the chair is moving them of its own volition. This presents and interesting design challenge for technology developers (spoiler alert- our next blog series will look at accessible & inclusive design!)

An alternative to fully autonomous chairs is giving the driver the information that they need to safely operate their power wheelchair, while maintaining their full control over the chair. This can be done through the use of visual aids for wheelchairs, including blind spot sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in their environment- check out the Braze Sentina for more information!

Reference

Public Health Agency of Canada. Report on seniors’ falls in Canada. 2005. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/seniors-aines/alt-formats/pdf/publications/pro/injury-blessure/seniors_falls/seniors-falls_e.pdf.

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The Story of David's Sentina

David’s Sentina

11/19/2018

Long term care homes often face challenges with safety regarding power mobility devices. The high concentration of people who use power wheelchairs and people at high risk of injury from falls creates a challenge for therapists and staff to find solutions that maximize independence, while preventing undue risk to other residents.

Long-term care facility staff are often balancing the need to maximize the independence of residents with their safety. One resident, David, who drives a power wheelchair was struggling to navigate through the hallways and tight spaces at his facility. David has a friend who saw Braze Mobility present our product at the CNE Innovation Garage, and thought the Braze blind spot sensor system would help his friend navigate in his power wheelchair.

His occupational therapist agreed that the Braze system would be a big help to David. The facility purchased a Training Kit for the home and installed it on David’s chair, so he could demo the system, and see whether it would help him to navigate throughout the home. When the system was installed on the chair, David was able to know what was around him, and navigate through corridors. Maddie and Pooja from Braze Mobility traveled to the facility to see how the system helped, and David had some rave reviews.

“I like it, it helps me!” — David

Unfortunately for David, there were multiple other residents that the therapist thought could benefit from the system, and he had to return the Training Kit Sentina. The therapist and David began to look into options for getting his own unit funded, and after a short wait his device received 100% funding.

Braze and the therapist planned out a surprise for David, who was very excited to receive his Braze Sentina!

Braze Mobility would like to sincerely thank David for his enthusiasm and support for our products!!

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TTC Bus with the Braze Mobility branding on it

TTC vs. The World: Subway Transit Accessibility

08/23/2018

I recently saw an article on the transit accessibility around the world, which was fascinating. It is good to see that transit commissions around the world are working towards a more accessible future (albeit slowly). The Toronto Transit Commission was left off of the list, so I decided to investigate. Being much newer than Paris and much less extensive than NYC, Toronto has a clear advantage in the ease of transforming their transit system to being 100% accessible. The following blog series will focus on the accessibility of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), where we are now, and how far we have to go to reach full accessibility.

Transit Accessibility in Toronto

The TTC has been making strides towards a fully accessible subway system, a goal which Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires is met by 2025. They boast on their website that over 50% of stations are accessible. In addition, all subway cars are accessible, and able to be both wheeled onto and off of as well as with designated spots for wheelchairs to park on the trains.

So far, the accessible map of the TTC subway system looks like this:

Map of all accessible TTC subway stations

Many stops are accessible, which means they have elevator access, accessible fare gates, automatic sliding doors and are hubs for accessible busses and Wheel-Trans. These stations also include highly visible signage. All subway cars have accessible access, and each car has at least one designated wheelchair space.

Challenges with Toronto’s Transit Accessibility

  • Elevators often malfunction or break, rendering “accessible” stations inaccessible.
  • Crowded trains may be difficult to navigate towards the designated accessible seating areas.
  • Seats with blue covers are specifically for people with disabilities, and able-bodied people are required by law to vacate the seat if someone with a disability requires it. If the train is full, or if the people in the seat do not cooperate it is difficult to enforce this law.

How the TTC is Working Towards Solutions

  • The TTC provides up-to-date status updates on elevator and escalator function. As per the TTC website, before you begin your subway trip call the TTC 24-hour Information Line at 416 393-4636 (INFO) and press 5 to confirm whether or not the elevators or escalators you plan to use on your trip are operating or scheduled for maintenance. Elevator information is also available at 416 539-5438 (LIFT) or on our Elevators and Escalators page.”
  • Posters alerting people that they must vacate seats for people with disabilities are now on most TTC subway trains.
  • Wheel-Trans vehicles are available to transport people who use wheelchairs to areas serviced by inaccessible stations.

What you can do to Make Transit Easier via Subway

  • Use a blind spot sensor system, such as the Braze Sentina to help navigate safely towards to accessible seating in crowded trains or used to navigate off of a city bus).
  • Ensure that you enter the subway car straight, not allowing front wheels to turn and get stuck in the gap.
  • Advocate for yourself, and alert people to the laws requiring them to vacate seats if required
  • Plan ahead, and ensure elevators are running along the stops you need.

Thank you for reading this post. If you have ridden the TTC or other transit system subway and want to share your story, please contact us at info@brazemobility.com, or leave a comment below!

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