SafeStep is a device to aid those with peripheral neuropathy by making it safer for them to walk and drive. Peripheral neuropathy affects twenty million people in the United States, often causing nerve damage on the feet. For these people, this nerve damage means that they cannot feel the difference between their foot being in the air or on the ground, thus making it difficult to position the foot properly while walking. This causes imbalance in those with peripheral neuropathy and often results in falling, which is extremely dangerous and could be fatal, particularly for the elderly.
In order to make it safer for those with peripheral neuropathy to walk, SafeStep provides multisensory biofeedback to the user, which will make them aware of how their foot is positioned on the ground. SafeStep is a pair of insoles with sensors that detect which part of the foot is bearing the weight of the user. It then provides feedback to the user through audio tones, vibration, and pressure. The audio tones would be transmitted through a Bluetooth device to be worn on the ear, providing different tones as different parts of the foot bear the weight of the user. Vibration would be provided through vibrating motors on the top of the insole, with each motor corresponding to a location of a sensor. A pressure cuff worn on the upper arm or leg would provide different amounts of pressure corresponding to different sensors. These three feedback systems would let the user know which part of the foot is bearing weight. This biofeedback system will allow for sensory substitution, meaning that the user will be able to replace sensation on the bottom of the foot with three alternative forms of feedback, allowing them to hear and feel the position of their foot on the ground. Through a short period of training, the user will adjust to this alternative sensation, which will allow them to subconsciously replace sensation in the bottom of the foot with the biofeedback system. This will improve the safety of the user because they will then be aware of when their feet are on the ground through sensory substitution.
SafeStep can also aid in driving by giving feedback to the user based on how much pressure they are putting on the gas or break pedal. In separate settings to be used while driving, SafeStep will be more sensitive to slight changes in pressure which would correspond to changes in pressure on the pedals. This information would be conveyed to the user by changing the pitch of the audio tones as well as the strength of the vibration and pressure, thus making the user aware of how much pressure they are applying to the pedals. SafeStep is easily customizable through a portal that can allow a doctor to optimize the settings to the needs of the user, such as the sensitivity of the pressure sensors and response time of feedback. The user may also chose which forms of feedback they would like to use, as all three forms of feedback may function independently of each other.
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