A new medtech start-up is helping to keep people with conditions such as Parkinson’s steadier on their feet with shoes that automatically project lines ahead as they walk

Path Finder, the brainchild of Imperial College London and Royal College of Art graduate Lise Pape, aims to tackle ‘freezing of gait’ (FoG) – a common challenge for people with Parkinson’s, who describe it as the feeling that their feet are glued to the floor. The symptom is one of the main causes of loss of balance and falls in people with Parkinson’s, and significantly affects their confidence in attempting to walk, especially because the condition is unpredictable.

Simple visual cues such as lines on the floor for people to step over have been shown to improve mobility and reduce FoG, thought to be because they help the brain to visualise and focus on the act of walking. However translating this into an easy to use solution has been problematic, says Lise, due to the need to reduce user involvement in the product as much as possible. She explains:

“People who experience freezing of gait and other unpredictable mobility challenges are already under stress, which can make the symptoms worse and adds to the fact that people with Parkinson’s often have problems with multi-tasking. So creating a product that requires too much user input, such as setting where the lines are placed, doesn’t significantly help. We needed to create something simple and intuitive for the user, removing the need for the user to carry out a specific movement.”

Her solution is a pair of shoes with lasers at the front which project green lines ahead as the person walks, activated by a sensor in each heel that monitors the user’s walking pattern, so that the right shoe projects a line for the left to step over and vice versa. An early proof of concept trial carried out by Radboud University in the Netherlands, with whom Lise is collaborating, found that users of the Path Finder shoes reported a decrease of up to 55% in time spent frozen compared to total walking time.

Lise developed the shoes while completing a double Masters in Innovation Design Engineering delivered jointly by Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art. She has now set up the company Walk With Path, and is carrying out clinical tests, with the aim of making the product commercially available within two years.

Path Finder has been shortlisted for the new MedTechSouthEast programme created by Design Council and MedCity to fast-track innovative medical technologies that support older people or those with debilitating conditions to live more independent lives. She will present her invention to judges on Tues 10 November at a pitching event at the Royal College of General Practitioners, alongside 13 other companies. Successful entrepreneurs will win an intensive 10 week accelerator course that will see them develop their products with industry experts.