If there is one area of personal transport that is ripe for innovation, it's probably the mobility walker. Typically reserved for older generations -- complete with the stereotypical tennis ball feet (like the one used by Carl Fredricksen in Pixar's Up) -- the walker has remained largely unchanged for decades. As part of the EU's ACANTO project, researchers from six European countries have developed the Friendly Robot Walker or FriWalk, a new four wheeled walker that is fitted with depth sensors and cameras that can detect health risks from a user's gait but also serve as a personal trainer.
Siemens, one of the project's major contributors, says that FriWalk requires the user to wear special pressure-sensitive insoles that allow the walker to measure the position of their feet, detect their orientation and the amount of pressure exerted on the ground. This information can be collated over a longer period of time, giving doctors a more accurate picture of a person's overall health.
On top of that, FriWalk could also operate as a personal trainer. Users, as well as their friends and loved ones, can feed the walker with ideas for various physical activities. Its contactless heart monitor and facial recognition system can detect the user's emotional state while they grab some groceries or visit an art gallery, providing valuable feedback on whether the activity was enjoyable or overly stressful.
The end goal is to deploy a fleet of FriWalk aids that connect users via a "cyberphysical" social network, which shares interests between groups and notifies them when an interesting activity is taking place. The system will be tested by 100 seniors in Spain, Italy and England between now and the project's closing date in 2018, helped by €4.3 million ($4.8 million) in funding from the European Commission.