Ramona Williams, 34, from Fulham, London, has had her design turned into a physical buggy by students at Imperial College, London. Williams has a series of eye conditions including congenital toxoplasmosis, which has impaired her vision since birth. She says she wouldn’t feel comfortable using a pushchair as she would have to hold her cane folded up under her hands on top of the handle bar.
“I want the option to have children but I know there are barriers to that, including travel,” she said. “When I have tried to navigate my nephews and nieces in a buggy with a cane I realised how inaccessible it was to use both.”
Williams found out about an innovation session being run at Imperial College’s new White City campus through her local council and went along. She explained her idea for a buggy that people with sight loss would be able to use and it was chosen for a design engineering student project. She met with the students to discuss her invention and was pleased at how keen they were to take themselves out of their comfort zone in order to understand the boundaries faced by those with limited vision.
The team of second year biomedical engineering students has worked with Ramona since October 2017 to bring her idea to reality. The buggy has sensors on the front and a bracket at the foot of the buggy for holding the user’s smartphone through which it is able to gain information about the ground ahead of the buggy.
By installing an app designed by the team, the smartphone can recognise various landmarks such as braille bumps, corners, and drop-offs, via its camera. The app then sends signals to vibration motors in the handlebar. Through different types of vibrations, the designers have created a touch-based language for communicating to the user when they are approaching hazards.
The buggy also has a bracket for holding the user’s cane, and a bright yellow ‘Visually Impaired Parent’ sign on its front to inform oncoming traffic and people.
“I’m excited about having a product that will not just help those with sight loss, but also work towards people understanding the difficulties faced."”
“Now there is a pushchair in the world that can sense its surroundings,” Williams said. “The prototype will very soon be presented to the public and then coming home with me, but my hope is that it will be marketed so it can be affordable for those who need it. I’m excited about having a product that will not just help those with sight loss, but also work towards people understanding the difficulties faced.”
The product is set to be showcased to the public at Imperial Festival’s ‘Engineering to Enable’ exhibit on Saturday 28 and Sunday 29 April.