Conceived as a Master’s thesis, a health startup is all set to make a world of difference to the wheelchair-bound
Regaining mobility, strength and learning to walk again while recovering from a stroke can be a big challenge. Now, many who find themselves in wheelchairs could soon be back on their feet again thanks to an innovative gait-assisting machine called the “Space Walker”.
The “Space Walker” is the brainchild of a team led by Warath Sitlaothaworn, a student in the mechanical engineering programme of Thammasat University. His thesis landed him a chance to create supportive equipment that helps patients and the elderly learn to walk again.
“For patients facing gait difficulties, learning to walk again and getting back to a normal life should be a top priority. So, it’s great if I can help them with their rehabilitation and become stronger,” Warath says.
Through their research at the Excellence Centre in Creative Engineering and Development (CED2), Mechanical Engineering Department, Thammasat University, Warath and his colleagues in the mechanical engineering and science (Physical Therapy) Master’s programmes successfully invented a prototype of Space Walker in 2018. Later, they won the ITCi Award for the best innovation for smart elderly home (Independent living) and the gold award at i-CREATe’s global student innovation challenge.
With support from the TED Fund of the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation (MHESI), Warath turned his idea into reality, further developing the prototype into a commercial product.
Prof. Dr. Supachai Pathumnakul, Deputy to the Permanent Secretary at the MHESI and Chairman of the TED Fund Committee, says the process of translating prototypes to commercial use is the biggest challenge for researchers. The TED Fund is designed to support students and young people to overcome this critical stage and eventually achieve their goal of evolving into startups.
In 2019, Warath and Assistant Professor Dr. Bunyong Rungroungdouyboon, the head of CED2, set up Medicubed Co., Ltd. to produce the Space Walker under the WOKA brand. Available via online channels, more than 200 machines have so far been sold to both individuals and hospitals nationwide.
The user-friendly Space Walker is a gait-assisting machine with a dynamic partial weight support system that uses a gas spring to support the patient’s body. It has been designed for people who have a lack of coordination or loss of balance and weakness in the legs, such as those who have suffered a stroke, have myasthenia gravis and the elderly.
Normally, stroke patients who return home after undergoing rehab are often wary of walking or exercising due to fears of falling. Space Walker ensures the patients will not fall thanks to a solid preventive system. Space Walker can support a patient’s weight up to 120 Kg and a height of between 140-190 cm.
Warath points out that the best way for patients to recover is to exercise at home with supportive equipment. Space Walker allows the patients to increase their walking activity and does away with the need to go for rehabilitation at a hospital.
According to the Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health, the number of stroke patients has been growing over the past five years and is currently more than 300,000 persons a year. Stroke is a leading cause of long-term disability. Impairments resulting from stroke lead to persistent difficulties with walking.
Meanwhile, Thailand will officially become an aged society this year, with 20% of the population aged 60 and over, and become a super-aged society in 2031.
Warath added that the quality of Space Walker is on par with the imported products but much cheaper, meaning that Thais can afford this vital aid. In addition, the company also offers the Space Walker for rent.
The Space Walker can be tried out at the Excellence Center in Creative Engineering and Development (CED2), Mechanical Engineering Department, Thammasat University.