Two young inventors have come up with a walking cane accessory to keep the cane and seniors from falling down.
BY: Eleanor Yap
When one sees a gap, the natural thing to do is to fill it. That is exactly what brother and sister, Seng Ian Hao and Ing Le, did when they encountered a senior four years ago, who had fallen over while trying to retrieve her walking stick. Initially, the stick was leaning against the side of a table while she was eating but it slid off and landed on the floor. While retrieving her cane, the senior lost her balance, fell and ended up injuring her head.
Said Ian, 13 and Le, 11, “We realised that the walking stick can be a hazard rather than an aid if the user is unable to reach it. We decided to come up with a solution for this problem of falling canes.” The two young inventors were determined. First, they tried locating a cane that would not fall over but they could not find any in the market that the seniors they spoke with liked enough to stabilise their canes and keep them upright and within reach. They complained that the existing products were either too heavy, just too cumbersome, or not sufficiently stable.
So, they did the next best thing – they came up with a product of their own! They roped in their users – the seniors themselves – to help them come up with something that is easy to use and keeps their walking canes upright called QaneMate (Qane stands for Quality Ambulatory Novel Equipment). The walking cane accessory is a simple and portable hand-held clip that fastens all walking sticks securely onto a supporting surface such as a table edge so that it is within reach of the seniors using the canes and it doesn’t fall. This holder has also been tested and worked on hospital beds, public transport bus poles and MRT poles. It follows somewhat of the same principle as the handbag clip which can be fastened to a surface and keeps the handbag near the owner.
The siblings shared: “We have always enjoyed coming up with innovations to solve problems faced by the elderly. It gives us a great sense of fulfilment!”
However, QaneMate didn’t become QaneMate overnight. The first prototype was made by Ian when he was nine years old using Lego in November 2013. And over three and a half years later, the siblings made 13 prototypes and tested them on seniors, including those at various nursing homes and eldercare centres that the two volunteer at with their family.
“Every time our users discovered a flaw or gave us suggestions on how to improve it, we would take apart the QaneMate and rebuild a brand-new prototype incorporating their feedback. It was discouraging in the beginning as we kept having to re-invent the older prototypes to get better user experience.
“We kept going back to the elderly and they tirelessly tried and re-tried our prototypes until eventually, they deemed QaneMate satisfactory. The elderly never gave up on us, and kept encouraging us in our journey. We are forever grateful to them,” said Ian, who is a student at Saint Joseph’s Institution (SJI) International School and Le, a student at Singapore Chinese Girls’ School.
As the two got feedback, their invention was further tweaked and modified to what it is today. QaneMate has even passed the test for seniors with arthritis and stroke. “Many elderly complained that without our invention, the walking stick is as clumsy as themselves, always falling over and needing to be picked up. With our invention, the ordinary walking stick is transformed into a quality walking aid which the elderly who used them felt so much happier. They were convinced that the invention raised the quality of their daily life too,” said the brother and sister, who have since set up a social enterprise that hopes to explore other inventions and gaps for seniors.
Since coming up with their final prototype and manufacturing it, they have been giving QaneMate for free to needy elderly using walking sticks. According to the two siblings, their parents were their “first-ever financial backers” and they have also contributed their ang-pow savings to their cause. So far, they have donated more than 200 units and they are currently being tested by physiotherapists, and the two still are collecting feedback and suggestions from seniors.
The siblings have also taken QaneMate a step further with the use of IT. The latest version has a smart, inbuilt NFC (near field communication) chip embedded within the QaneMate logo sticker and enhanced features such as an emergency contact number especially for those with dementia and wandering tendencies. The smart NFC chip allows storage of basic user information such as the surname and initials, abbreviated IC number and the emergency contact of a next-of-kin. A tap of a mobile phone with NFC capability will allow one such as a kind Samaritan to contact the user’s next-of- kin immediately, and these lost seniors can then be reunited with their family safely and quickly. Currently, many lost seniors found wandering are brought to police stations with no source of identity on them. This can be a very emotionally traumatic and stressful experience for these seniors.
In addition, the young inventors are working with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) engineers to trial having the Green Man Plus device (that are at traffic crossings) activation function incorporated into the smart QaneMate holder too and promote road safety among seniors. “We hope to get some kind corporate sponsors in the future, who have a heart for the elderly so we can produce more of the latest version and give to the needy elderly.”
Helping seniors has always been in their blood. Besides volunteering at eldercare facilities with family members since they were toddlers, the two siblings draw inspiration from their late grandfather, Dr KM Seng, an obstetrician, nursing home volunteer doctor, and co-founder of TauRx Therapeutics, a drug development company looking at breakthrough therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.
Support & recognition
Over the years, their invention has received much commendation and support. This year, they were granted their first patent by the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore. They also won the Innovation of the Year Award at the 2017 Ageing Asia Innovation Forum and went on to represent Singapore at the 2017 Gerontech Innovation-cum-Exhibit Summit (GIES) in Hong Kong. They have even been recognised abroad including in the US, in 2014 at the 26th Young Inventors’ Showcase by the Young Inventors of America Association, and Ian and Le brought home the first prize in their category.
Wise beyond their ages, the two shared, “We won’t remain kids forever. One day, we will be elderly ourselves and will need our invention to help us move around and prevent us from falling down.
“We also hope that one day, our own grandkids will invent even better tools for us to use when we grow old.”