When ideas grow up

Challenge: to use basic-research technologies to enhance mobility. A group of Finnish students accepted this challenge in 2014 and now they have come back to CERN’s IdeaSquare to develop their idea: a smart hip protector to protect elderly people in the event of a fall.


The smart hip protector protects elderly people if they fall. (Image: George Atanassov/Aalto University)

The intelligent hip protector features two airbags and three different sensors – an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer. When the three sensors simultaneously show that the person is falling, a CO2 cartridge releases gas into the airbags and quickly inflates them, thus softening the impact with the ground.

“This idea came about during the Challenge-Based Innovation course in 2014, in which participants were asked to use technologies developed for basic research in new solutions to facilitate mobility,” explains Enna Rane, a member of the team. “Together with students from the Istituto Europeo di Design in Barcelona and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, we decided to focus on the prevention of hip fractures in elderly women.” Indeed, 80% of hip fractures occur in ageing women, since they are at a high risk of suffering from osteoporosis. At the final CBI gala, the students presented a prototype for a hip-protecting skirt called Inde, which, despite being in its first stage of development, was already working perfectly.

The Smarthip team visiting the ATLAS underground cavern: (from left to right) Laura Aalto-Setälä , Sarianna Niskala, Enna Rane, Jaakko Laukkanen, Tuomas Savolainen. (Image: Laura Aalto-Setälä/Smarthip team)

Given the initial promising results, some members of the team decided to go ahead with the project and, since then, two main aspects have been improved. First, the algorithm that controls the inflation has been refined in sensitivity in order to distinguish better actual falls from other everyday activities, such as sitting, that might mimic dangerous situations and therefore trigger an unwanted airbag inflation. The design has also been improved, since elderly people are often embarrassed to wear awkward and visible protective devices. The original skirt has now been transformed into mid-layer shorts that can also be worn by men; the wearability has been improved by reducing the size of all the components; and the comfort has been increased thanks to the fabrics selected. “We hope that these improvements will encourage elderly people to wear our smart shorts, which are designed to protect them while remaining invisible under their clothes,” says Jaakko Laukkanen, another member of the team, in charge of the development of the marketing strategy.

The team of Finnish students plans to continue developing the smart hip protector. They have renamed it Smarthip and, over the course of this year, they plan to create their own start-up, to seek investment and to start clinical trials.

Find out more about the Smarthip team and their project here.

by Stefania Pandolfi