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Camino Robotics: Moving Walkers into the Age of AI and Beyond

By Mark Ogilbee posted 10-09-2023 01:56 PM

  

Camino — an AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant — has revamped the old-school walker as a power-assisted, intelligent data platform to help people stay mobile, active and more self-reliant. Using motors, sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and other innovations, Camino’s smart tool keeps people moving and even enables remote monitoring, proactive interventions and data-informed care.

We spent time talking with co-founder and CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones about the company’s mission and innovative solution.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

Please tell us a little about Camino.

We have reimagined the old-school walker to help adults stay mobile and active. We’ve focused on a user-centric design and added a power assist, along with AI capabilities to monitor a user’s gait.

 

How does the power assist work?

It responds to what the user does — it’s designed to operate at walking speeds, and it controls acceleration and speed. It’s principally there to provide support for someone by neutralizing the weight of the device, especially when someone is walking uphill. It makes the device as light as a feather. It also has automatic braking when going downhill.

 

You mentioned AI. How are you incorporating that into your device?

AI has lots of different incarnations, and ours is focused on computer vision. It uses sensors to monitor the key nodes of a user’s legs, which allows us to track what’s going on with their toes, heels, ankles and knees. We can then essentially recreate their leg movements in three-dimensional space and perform analytics on what’s actually happening with their gait: Is their foot getting off the ground? Do they have asymmetry in their gait?

There’s a causal relationship between how much you walk and your health outcomes. Some studies show that if an older adult goes from walking 2,000 steps per day to 4,000 steps, their mortality can drop by as much as 25%. So having a device that neutralizes its own weight and has automatic braking makes it easier for them to get out and about. Then, adding this new stream of data helps the person understand and keep track of how they’re doing, and it unlocks more data and insights that care providers can use to track how someone is progressing with rehabilitation.

 

We can then essentially recreate their leg movements in three-dimensional space and perform analytics on what’s actually happening with their gait

How is the data shared with users?

We have a very simple app for the end user; they can put their phone in a mount on the walker and use it to see how far they’ve walked and how fast, like the dashboard in a car. The idea is to create an immediate feedback loop to make it more engaging and to stimulate people to want to get out and walk more.

We send that data to the cloud, where we can run analytics on it, which helps with the clinical side of things. For example, most physical therapy clinics rely on someone using their eyes and simple tools to measure how far someone has walked. Our data can make that more objective — and it measures what users do in the real world, not just what they do in the clinic. It can also detect changes in patterns so that caregivers can take proactive measures, if necessary.

 

What was your journey to founding the company?

My dad had Parkinson’s for 20-plus years, and I was amazed, almost appalled, by how antiquated the current devices are. People who need walkers have been underserved by the devices they’ve been given, even in terms of the style — does the walker’s style give people dignity, or does it take something away? There are lots of ways that the walker we’re developing could have helped my father, not the least of which would have been to make it easier for him to get out and move around more.

I kept thinking about this problem, and my wife was encouraging me to start a company. Then, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the founder of a legendary startup incubator based in California. He started sharing ideas of companies he wanted to spin up, and the second idea he shared with me was this same thing I’d been thinking about — and my head just about exploded. I emailed him the next day and said, “I’ll quit my career and come work with you. Let’s go see if we can tackle this problem.”

 

How has the development process played out?

When you start working in a space like this, all of a sudden you see people everywhere using these devices. In most cases, I see them struggling, often to get their walker into a car. So we designed ours to fold down from fully operational to basically the size of carry-on luggage in two to three seconds, with safety features built in.

I also started thinking about baby strollers. Those have been improved dramatically, and people spend tons of money on them, even though they don’t have babies for very long compared to how long an older adult may be dealing with mobility challenges. But walkers haven’t been improved in decades, when everything else these days has got some kind of electronics and better design thinking involved. 

So our thinking evolved, and we spent time speaking to medical professionals to understand what kind of challenges people who use walkers really face. One of the things that became obvious to us was to include sensors with the ability to measure the user’s gait and other data. The sensors allow us to take precise measurements of how far someone has traveled — we’re not estimating based on GPS. This accuracy can be important for caregivers to have in a rehabilitation setting.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

The prototyping process was a challenge. We’ve built 50 different prototypes or elements that we put into existing prototypes, and we continue to refine them. For example, we’re trying to deliver a device to a population that is more technologically adept than people give them credit for, but they generally prefer to have a device that doesn’t have a lot of technology in their face. So we’ve had to hide all the technology in a way that’s seamless and reliable in a device that feels familiar. And that’s surprisingly difficult. It’s been a long journey to refine all of that software to make sure it’s as magical as we want it to be.

We’ve had tremendous support from the Collaborative, and the passion we’ve seen around what we’re trying to do for the aging population has been terrific.  

What’s up next for Camino, or is there anything else you’d like to share?

We’re going through the final steps toward actually releasing our device early next year. There are plenty of hurdles involved with that, but people are pre-ordering the device, which is terrific, because I feel like we have an opportunity to make a huge impact in the world.

And I’d like to give a plug for the AgeTech Collaborative™.  We’ve had tremendous support from the Collaborative, and the passion we’ve seen around what we’re trying to do for the aging population has been terrific. It’s also helped us drive awareness: We’ve had the good fortune to be on a few different TV shows, largely because of the work the Collaborative and AARP has done in supporting us. And the network that the Collaborative has created with different participants, investors, pilot partners and so on has been a big help. I would encourage anyone who’s thinking about building a product or company that serves aging adults to get involved with the Collaborative.

Learn more about Camino at their website.

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