Over a decade in the making, the WalkAide® System is a small device that makes a big difference for its users. Now the Canadian invention is receiving international recognition as a recipient of a 2007 da Vinci Award, to be presented by General Motors at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Dearborn, MI, on Friday, September 28, 2007.
Created at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, by a team led by Richard Stein, the WalkAide® System is designed to assist users with foot drop, due to stroke, spinal cord injury, MS or cerebral palsy. The AA battery-operated device is about the size of an IPod and is worn around the leg, just below the knee.
WalkAide uses light electrical stimulation to re-train the muscles of the leg and ankle to move properly. “The way the WalkAide works is that it has built-in electronic stimulation which activates some surface electrodes on the skin, so it doesn’t need any implantation or surgery,” said Stein, a professor emeritus in the U of A’s department of physiology in the Faculty of Medicine.
“The timing of the stimulation is determined by a tilt censor. So when the leg tilts back, it turns the stimulus on, and when the leg tilts forward, it turns it off.”
In the spirit of the 15th century artist and visionary Leonardo da Vinci, the da Vinci Awards honour the most innovative developments and research in adaptive and assistive technology that embrace the Universal Design Principle—an approach to the design of products, services and environments to be usable by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or circumstance.
For users of the WalkAide, the device means mobility, independence and a renewed sense of freedom. “It is truly life changing,” said Edgar Jackson of Edmonton, Canada, who has foot drop as a result of a motorcycle accident and has used WalkAide for six years. “I owe this man everything,” Jackson said in reference to Stein.