Braze device makes ordinary wheelchairs smarter
October 25, 2017
An add-on device that make an ordinary wheelchair smart and prevent collisions has been launched by Canadian company Braze Mobility.
The system uses sensors to detect obstacles and provides visual, audio or vibration feedback to drivers. It can be added to any powered or manual wheelchair.
"Rear visibility and manoeuvring in tight spaces are real issues with mobility devices, and collisions can result," said Braze Mobility CEO Pooja Viswanathan, pictured with the device. "Our obstacle-detection system is designed to increase safety, independence and quality of life for people living with mobility impairment."
Two versions of the product – the Braze Hydra and Braze Sentina – debuted this month at the Age-Well Annual Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Age-Well, Canada's technology and aging network, has supported Braze through its strategic investment programme.
Incorporated in 2016, Braze has also received support from the Ontario Brain Institute through its ONtrepreneurs programme, Ontario Centres of Excellence, National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Programme, Impact Centre at the University of Toronto, and Semaphore Research Cluster at University of Toronto.
Herman Witlox, a powered wheelchair user who helped to beta test the obstacle-detection system, called it "a lifesaver" that helps him avoid collisions with people and property that can happen when changing directions or backing up, for example.
"It gives you an awareness and a sense of security," said Witlox, who has continued to use the system and is involved with a company that will be one of its distributors.
The system can be ordered by institutions such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and seating clinics across North America. Direct sales to individual consumers will follow.
For Viswanathan, a postdoctoral fellow in computer science at the University of Toronto and an Age-Well highly qualified personnel, the launch of the new system is a personal milestone. She has worked for over a decade on collision-avoidance systems for wheelchairs.
"Anyone who uses a wheelchair can benefit from this system, which will be particularly useful for people with low peripheral vision and limited neck and upper body flexibility" she said. "One of our testers says he feels like he has eyes on the back of his head with this technology. He says that it's 'got his back.' And for people who are excluded from using powered wheelchairs, including some older adults with dementia, the system will widen access to mobility devices, giving new opportunities for independent mobility."
Viswanathan co-founded Braze Mobility with Alex Mihailidis, a Toronto Rehab and University of Toronto scientist and scientific director at Age-Well.
Braze is generating jobs as well as products. Nine people are involved with the company, including contractors and interns. Graham Browning, a recent engineering graduate from Ontario's University of Waterloo, is now a product manager. He took the position at Braze over other offers.
"A big motivating factor was wanting to make a positive impact in people's lives," he said.
Braze has earned recognition at several recent pitch competitions. The company captured cash prizes after coming first in the Power Play pitch competition hosted by Toronto Rehab Foundation in partnership with the iDapt Centre for Rehabilitation Research and Age-Well, the CNE Innovation Garage, and a competition hosted by the Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization.
Age-Well is a pan-Canadian network of industry, non-profit organisations, government, care providers, end users and academic partners working together using research to drive innovation and create technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers. Its vision is to harness and build upon the potential of emerging and advanced technologies in areas such as artificial intelligence, e-health, information communications technologies and mobile technologies to stimulate technological, social, and policy innovation. It is funded through the federal Networks of Centres of Excellence programme.