34-year-old UK resident Ramona Williams was looking for solutions in her everyday life when she dreamt up the new Smart Baby Buggy. Several lifelong eye conditions, including congenital toxoplasmosis, reduce her vision significantly. Since her white cane signals her vision loss to others and could easily fall out of a conventional baby carriage she didn’t feel comfortable folding it up to push her baby on daily walks.
“I know a few people who have to either carry their children or their cane in one hand, while pulling the pushchair with the other hand from behind,” says Williams. “My idea was to have a pushchair with vibrations to warn of hazards; something on the buggy to attach a cane to; and a sign that signifies that the person pushing the buggy has vision loss.”
Williams shared her idea with Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering as a potential project for second-year engineering design students. Ten students expressed interest. They began to draft plans a totally new product.
Bringing the buggy to life
Their solution –The Smart Baby Buggy. It employs a combination of LIDAR— the laser technology used in selfdriving cars—and ultrasound sensors to warn the user of oncoming hazards like vehicles, pedestrians, curbs and drop-offs, all through vibrations in its handlebar. Showcased to the public at the “Engineering to Enable” exhibit in this April’s Imperial Festival (an event organized by Imperial College London), The buggy has a bracket for holding the user’s cane, and bright yellow “visually impaired parent” sign to make navigating traffic and crowds accessible along with its more technical design features.
Keeping parent and child safe
The modified buggy’s combination of ultrasound and LIDAR sensors allows a 180-degree field of hazard perception. Sensor signals from the ground are gathered by a processor in the buggy’s base, and transmit motorized vibration cues to the handlebars. The vibrations form touch-based—or “haptic”—language telling users of approaching impediments, while a cradle in the buggy’s base can hold the user’s smartphone and provide further feedback on the ground ahead. The pram’s specially designed smartphone app recognizes corners, drop-offs, and even braille bumps, communicating with the user about them via headphones.
Design solutions for real-life problems
The prototype buggy will be given to Williams for use. But both she and the student team are keen to build on their innovation. “We’re still discussing it, but we would really like to take it further as a start-up company” says Samuel Martin Frias, the team’s project leader, “And not just with the buggy. It could be used on wheelchairs or shopping trolleys. It’s very exportable.”
The Smart Baby Buggy is supported by Mutsy, SparkFun Electronics and Microsoft Azure.
Andrew Youngson is the news and digital content editor at Imperial College London. Prior to working in higher education, Andrew was a features writer for The Press and Journal.