Beautiful walking cane transforms into a compact wooden stool in a snap

No one can escape the passage of time or how the body grows old and frail. We can really only delay the inevitable with a healthy lifestyle, but there will always come a time when we’ll need someone or something to lean on while walking or need to sit down more regularly even if there’s not a chair in sight. Walking aids and stools are common sights in everyday life, and products that combine these two are also no longer alien to our eyes. Unfortunately, most of them, while functional, are also unattractive and sometimes even difficult to use. They’re often a cause of embarrassment for users who’d rather leave these at home and endure discomfort rather than be seen using them. Fortunately, all hope is not lost and this rather unique “sitting cane” shows how a well-designed tool can be functional, beautiful, and uplifting all at the same time.

Designer: Anker Bak

Made from a single piece of solid ash wood split in the middle and held together with six brass bolts, the SNILD, the Danish word for handy or dextrous, shatters expectations of what a walking aid should look like. Rather than a traditional stick or a rod that ends with legs at the bottom, it looks more like a tapered paper clip viewed from the front. The curved top and bottom edges along with the sloping sides give the tool a more elegant and stylish appearance, while also providing bigger surface areas for holding or standing on the floor. The loop at the top also lets you hoist the sitting cane over your shoulder if you need to make use of both hands.

Unlike walking aids that also function as stools, transforming the SNILD is as easy as pulling the top halves apart. This reveals a leather seat that is both durable and comfortable, and it uses simple physics to hold the person up. The rubber feet of the legs provide the necessary grip to prevent the stool or the cane from sliding.

More than its functionality, it’s the design and aesthetic that puts the SNILD above the rest. It has a dignified appearance that goes beyond a simple walking aid or seat, and that sense of dignity is transferred to the user who no longer feels the shame of carrying one. It is a part of the designer’s vision of Everyday Assistive Furniture (EAF) design furniture that’s not only a tool but can even be a source of pride and an heirloom for future generations.

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Odd modular game controller gives Xbox players with disabilities a helping hand

It’s about time that gaming companies and studios realize that there are people who would love to play their games and use their consoles but are hindered because of one physical disability or another. Accessibility has only recently been an advertised feature of games and gaming hardware, and it might take a while before it actually becomes a standard in the industry. Thankfully, major companies are leading the accessibility charge, giving birth to accessibility devices that may look weird but give all gamers, even those perfectly capable ones, incredible powers to enjoy games the way they want them. Take for example this newly announced Xbox-certified accessibility controller that almost looks like a small alien swarm thanks to its modular design.

Designer: ByoWave

For gamers with physical disabilities that relate to their hands or fine motor control, the typical game controller or keyboard, despite their ergonomic designs, is sometimes impossible to use. Thankfully, there has been an increased interest in developing more accessible control devices, spearheaded by the Xbox Adaptive Controller in 2018 and followed by the Sony Access Controller, previously dubbed “Project Leonardo,” last year. Of course, there are more than just two ways to design for accessibility, and ByoWave’s Proteus Controller is just the latest to turn heads with its unconventional mechanism and innovative idea.

In a nutshell, the Proteus Controller is made up of small, rounded cubes with some faces that can be changed to be a button, a D-Pad, a joystick, and more. These cubes can then connect to each other to form different shapes that cater to the needs of the gamer. It can, for example, be a single, curving stack that you can hold like a joystick, a 2×2 grid that you can mash like arcade buttons on a table, or even a conventional gamepad layout with the right accessories and connectors. It can support over a hundred such configurations and LED lighting combinations, letting the user decide how they want to play depending on their circumstances.

Of course, the controller is primarily designed to address the needs of gamers with disabilities, but it’s not hard to see how this will be popular with almost any gamer, especially those on the Xbox platform. The sheer number of options and combinations is mind-blowing, and some might even just make new controller designs just for the fun of it. It’s a clear example of how accessible design actually benefits everyone, and gamers will probably be excited for the arrival of the Proteus accessibility controller in the fall, especially given its starting price of $299.

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Moonwalker X robotic shoes arrive at CES 2024 with improved maneuverability and lightweight modular design

Back in 2022, a pair of motorized shoes dubbed Moonwalker burst into the scene, promising to be the fastest pair on the planet. Developed by Shift Robotics, they hook onto your regular shoes and give you superhuman abilities to glide, as if you’re you are moonwalking.

The Austin-based maker has again touched base at CES 2024 with an improved version called Moonwalker X, and we got hands-on time with these AI-powered shoes at the event. According to founder and CEO Xunjie Zhang, “In developing X, our focus was clear: enhancing productivity without compromising safety.” We second this vision as the product is proud recipient of the “Best of CES 2024” award.

Designer: Shift Robotics

The intended use for these robotic shoes is for commercial and business applications where speed and productivity is the key. For example, in a warehouse or manufacturing facility where human movement needs to be optimized while saving effort for efficiency. That said, the Moonwalker X’s can be put to good use in daily life too – for instance – hurrying to your office in the morning time or commuting in the crowded city streets. There have been other iterations of such rollerblades on steroids like the Segway – Ninebot Drift W1 and Hoverwheel, but they’ve not smashed the popularity button as expected.

In our experience with the robotic shoes at the event in Las Vegas, they do feel lighter being 3.2 pounds each – almost a pound lighter than the original version. Compared to the previous iteration they are slightly smaller and as an added perk are highly modular too for repairability. The AI control system has been re-engineered for better control in tight spaces and the shock absorption capabilities have also been honed. If you’ve keenly followed the progress of the Moonwalker, you’ll notice the number of wheels on each shoe has now been reduced to six from the 10 wheels on the original version.

Shift Robotics has not yet revealed anything about the pricing and says that it’ll be announced in the first half of 2024 when they’ll be ready to ship.

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Smart belt with haptic feedback can replace white canes for visually impaired

For those that do not have any visual impairments or don’t know have anyone close to them that has this condition, the simple act of walking down a street is something that we probably take for granted. Being aware that not everyone will have that privilege is something that we should occasionally remind ourselves. There are brands and product designers that are constantly working to develop gadgets and tools that can help those that need assistance living their every day lives.

Designer: AI Guided

GUIDi is a concept for a device that can replace the white cane that a lot of visually impaired individuals use to navigate their way through busy streets. It is a device that the user wears on their waist and includes camera and microprocessor modules, and haptic feedback units that will assist them as they walk. There are two 8-megapixel cameras that are forward-facing and will scan the environment as they are walking. The images captured will be analyzed by AI-based software which will be able to identify things like trees, trash cans, sign posts, and other items that the user may face on the street or sidewalk.

The haptic feedback units will vibrate to alert the user that there may be some obstruction in their direction. It will even be able to detect things like branches, wires, and other overhanging items that a regular cane may miss since it’s basically on the ground. The device can also be connected to an app on their smartphone through Bluetooth connectivity where they can choose a specific location and they will be guided by GUIDi accordingly. The battery life is around 8-10 hours on a single charge.

Design wise, it’s pretty much a no-frills device that you can wear on your waist and should not be that obstructive or uncomfortable. The two haptic feedback units on each side should be enough to give the user signals on possible obstacles but also not give sudden vibrations that might surprise the user. The GUIDi is not yet in production but those who are interested can try joining the free trial that the company is offering.

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This beautiful adjustable side table was made for accessibility and uses reclaimed wood

We’ve seen no small number of furniture here a Yanko Design covering a wide range of materials, shapes, and functions. While these designs try to cater to as many people as possible, few of them address one specific but very important use case. The word “accessibility” isn’t often used when it comes to furniture, mostly because of the stigma the term has in relation to sterile and clinical designs found in hospitals. That’s not to say, however, that these don’t serve a purpose outside of medical facilities, only that their aesthetics are a poor fit in homes and residences. The answer is not to shy away from these products but to shed new light on them, just like this handsome wooden side table that is actually an over-couch or overbed table that you see beside hospital beds.

Designer: Capella

The interesting thing about accessibility is that even though it’s sometimes seen as a burden on designers, it actually benefits more than just people with disabilities. Software gets new features that can be utilized by power users, and physical products gain capabilities or parts that wouldn’t be there otherwise. When it comes to furniture, however, accessibility suffers from the association with hospital equipment whose designs are driven by very different requirements from home use. Fortunately, all it takes is some creative thinking and smart use of materials to reshape one such common piece of furniture in order to benefit anyone at home, especially those who have poor mobility.

The Corbal Side Table looks like any other wood and metal shelf, albeit one that can easily be attached to the side of a couch or a bed. Its secret, however, is that the tabletop can actually swivel around, putting that surface right in front of the person sitting or lying down. It’s a kind of function commonly found in overbed tables in hospitals to help patients eat without leaving their beds. Corbal offers the same convenience for eating, working, or any other activity, all from the comfort of one’s home.

The side table definitely doesn’t look like any piece of hospital furniture because of its modern design utilizing finished solid wood and matte black steel supports. At the same time, it isn’t like any normal overbed table either, because of the feet that can be hidden under the bed or couch to provide stability, especially when swinging the height-adjustable tray. It looks like a perfect match for any home interior without giving away its clinical inspiration.

As if its features weren’t impressive enough, the Corbal Side Table has an equally interesting origin story to tell. It is made from vintage and reclaimed wood, specifically mahogany, giving it a sustainable and environment-friendly character as well. All in all, it’s a design that benefits not only those who are in need of accessible furniture at home but practically everyone else as well, and that includes even the planet.

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Walking aid for the elderly comes with a box for carrying their furry friends

Humans seem to be wired to be social animals, and that is sometimes a difficult problem for certain people. Loneliness affects everyone, but the pain can become more acute for people who are more advanced in age and who find it hard to develop new relationships because of limits to their mobility. Pets have become a solution for some of the elderly folk, but that, too, comes with its own puzzles to solve. People advanced in age are often advised to still go outside as long as they are able to, but they are hesitant to leave their furry friends at home as well. Solving multiple related problems can be a daunting task, but this walker concept pulls it off in a way that is both simple and effective.

Designer: Feng Chang

There are definitely plenty of walking aid designs, some even serving multiple functions. Some are just a step above crutches that you have to lift to move forward, while others come with wheels that increase mobility at the expense of some stability. Some come with small seats for the user, and others have baskets to hold their things. This particular walker concept combines some of these to present a more agile yet safe aid that has room for your pet when you go out.

The most conspicuous part of this walker is the large box that serves as your pet’s mobile home. You can simply slide the door on top to let the little furry friend in or out, or you can keep it close so that they don’t jump out suddenly. Of course, there are vents that allow the pet to breathe easily while comfortably confined in there.

The walking aid itself has a few aspects that help it rise about common designs. The handle, for example, travels in almost all directions, giving the user the freedom to grip it any way they prefer. There’s a brake button underneath the handlebar that will prevent the user from falling over or sliding. The front wheels also have LED lights above them that can be recharged via a USB-C slot on the opposite side, offering additional safety, especially in darker areas.

This walking aid concept hits two birds with one well-designed stone to help make elderly lives a bit more enjoyable and meaningful. It offers a convenient way for them to bring their beloved pets with them for a walk while also providing mobility and safety for themselves. And while the walker is primarily designed for very old people, anyone with limited mobility and a small pet can still benefit from this idea, at least if it ever becomes a real product.

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Smart home device concepts empower visually-impaired members of society

Our homes and appliances are becoming more powerful, but they are also becoming more complicated. Many interfaces are fortunately being reworked to simplify our interaction with these devices, but almost all of them still require a clear view of what the interfaces are. Sure, there are voice commands nowadays, as well as AI, but as any smart homeowner has experienced, these aren’t always fast or reliable. Unfortunately, all these new interfaces, even the minimalist ones, tend to cut off those with vision disabilities, depriving them not only of enjoyment or convenience but also of a sense of confidence and security in their own homes. It doesn’t actually take much to design with accessibility in mind, and as these three smart device concepts show, such creative designs might be useful or even fun for those who can see perfectly as well.

Designer: Jaehee Lee, Byeonguk Ahn, Minseok Kim

Many smart devices today tend to value aesthetics or functions too highly without considering how those would negatively impact the experience of people who are either blind or visually impaired. Some have too many buttons or have buttons that are all shaped similarly, making it difficult to tell by touch which one is which. Worse, there are those that use only touch controls on flat glass surfaces, which are completely useless unless you can see their marks. Beyond Sight is a collection of concept designs that address these flaws by using unambiguous motions and shapes that actually look fun to use, regardless of the state of your vision.

A smart speaker, for example, uses simple taps to play or pause the audio. Volume is controlled by sliding a ball up or down a pole while changing tracks involves turning the dial at the top. For people who can’t see or can’t see clearly, these definite tactile controls leave no room for guessing their functions. For those that can see what the speaker looks like, the design adds an element of fun and play to a device that has almost become too utilitarian these days.

The smart remote control might look and feel like a toy flashlight, but its polygonal shaft does more than provide a good grip. To change channels, you roll the device to one or the other side. To turn the TV on, you simply put the remote down from a standing to a lying position. The head of the device is a dial that you can turn to adjust the volume, and a large button lets you summon your voice-controlled AI assistant to do the more advanced functions that the remote doesn’t support. Admittedly, the rolling gesture might be a bit cumbersome, especially if you need to go through many channels quickly.

Lastly, a timer imitates the primary mechanism of rotary phone dials of the past so that people can slip their finger into the large hole and read the time in Braille. Setting the timer involves just turning that dial to the desired amount of time in 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 30, and 60-minute intervals. The circular surface of the device slopes down toward that hole, easily guiding the finger to where it needs to be.

For those with visual impairments, the designs of these concept devices give them enjoyment and security in a home that’s increasingly becoming impersonal and intimidating for them. For those that can see clearly, the devices’ designs give them a toy-like character that hints not only at their ease of use but also at their fun controls, proving that accessible designs can truly benefit everyone.

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Office furniture concept was made with accessibility front and center

We’ve seen the birth of a new kind of computer chair, one that integrates not only the computer but even the monitor as well. While these gaming-oriented behemoths are equal parts impressive and bewildering, they are, like most office and computer furniture, made for the majority of able-bodied people, to the exclusion of those with physical disabilities. This latter group often needs more specialized equipment, but few actually design office furniture with accessibility as the top priority. In contrast, this furniture concept was made specifically for people with physical disabilities, and it creatively combines ideas and mechanisms from existing products or systems in order to create something that is new yet also familiar to the people who will be using them.

Designer: Divyanshu Garg

There are many types of physical disabilities and impairments, but for those who can still do some form of office work or another, the most common type is a walking disability. These people can still work with their hands and even use a computer, but their mobility is hampered, making it difficult for them to go places. Some even have to use wheelchairs, which could be a major obstacle to productivity and comfort, even at home. There are, however, also plenty of tools and devices designed around this kind of disability, but very few are meant to make office life more bearable or even more enjoyable.

This office furniture thesis tries to combine some of these features with other mechanisms that people from all walks of life might be familiar with. Everyone will want proper lighting and a comfortable chair, for example, but not many of these are made for those who aren’t able to walk. In this concept, for example, the chair shifts forward to facilitate moving from the chair to a wheelchair, something that is already used in cars made for accessibility.

The person, however, might not even have to move at all, presuming the office, home, or facility is built with a system that can move the furniture around. The concept allows for a motorized track running across the ceiling for that very purpose, like trains on a rail. There’s also a desk that pivots and slides in and out as needed, similar to those chairs used in some classrooms. The entire ensemble is enclosed in an open cubicle shape with smart glass that can go transparent or opaque, depending on whether the person inside needs visibility or privacy.

This is admittedly a rather ambitious design, but with the exception of the motorized ceiling track and privacy glass, it might actually be possible to implement. The thesis does at least demonstrate how an accessibility-focused design process can make a huge difference, one that could ironically benefit even those without disabilities in making their office life a bit more convenient and comfortable.

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This discreet device helps blind people read voice memos with their fingertips

There is a veritable wealth of technology available at our fingertips, from smartphones to hands-free voice assistants to AI that can create convincing (or deceptive) works of art. Amazing as they might be, not everyone is able to utilize these technologies that make human life more convenient, especially when it comes to things that you need to see to be able to use. Visually impaired people are among those disenfranchised by many of these common technologies and devices, and they actually make up a large part of today’s population. Even something as simple as taking notes for recalling later can be a frustrating process despite modern technology, but this simple-looking device concept attempts to put those technologies to work in a very inconspicuous way.

Designer: Seunghyun Ko

We do have quite a few devices and services today that don’t require vision to use. Voice-controlled smart assistants, for example, give feedback via voice as well and offer auditory cues instead of notifications on screens. Of course, they can also take voice notes for yourself that you can ask them to play at a later time. Unfortunately, that kind of interaction isn’t always possible, especially in public places where you might not want other to hear that memo to yourself, or it might not be possible to hear the voice note in the middle of a noisy environment.

TEXT.ure offers a solution that is both simple yet ingenious, combining several existing technologies into a single design that could significantly improve the quality of life of visually-impaired people. In a nutshell, the user records a voice memo onto the device, and it uses speech recognition and perhaps a pinch of AI to translate that memo into Braille. Inside the device is a grid of dots that can be raised or lowered to form the corresponding Braille characters so that the user can read the note later in private.

The idea might sound simple but the execution is quite elegant. TEXT.ure comes as a square device with rounded corners and smooth surfaces. It opens up into two parts, revealing the Braille mechanism inside. The shape is reminiscent of the general form of notepads, or at least how blind people might perceive it through their fingertips.

A great deal of attention was poured into the texture and tactile experience of the device, especially since visually-impaired people rely heavily on their sense of touch. The use of plastic, though questionable, is meant to convey feelings of lightness and softness, while the silicone carrying strap makes gives one an assurance of flexibility and durability. The fabric that covers the hinge connect the two halves also give a warm sensation. The few physical controls that the device has are all located at the edges and are clearly marked so that they can be easily distinguished and manipulated with a single touch.

TEXT.ure might sound and look like a simple device, but its minimalism belies the power that it gives to people who might feel powerless even with today’s technologies. Being able to quickly dictate a note to oneself and be able to read it later with privacy isn’t something that is easily available to visually-impaired people. It’s unfortunate that such devices still exist only in the realm of concepts, but hopefully designers and engineers will be able to come together and build something like this soon.

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Sony debuts its first ever accessible gaming controller at CES 2023

As a part of the CES 2023 presentation, Sony has announced its foray into the accessibility option for the ecosystem to customize to the needs of people with limited motor control. The Japanese electronics giant revealed it is working on a new accessibility controller kit for PS5 codenamed “Project Leonardo” to give disabled gamers equal strategic advantage as normal players.

Microsoft is already mindful of such special requirements – the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a good example of it. Taking leaf out of its competitors’ book, Sony has collaborated with organizations like AbleGamers, SpecialEffect and Stack Up to fine-tune the project.

Designer: Sony

By the look of things, the kit comprises circular gamepads lined up with buttons and directional keys. All of them are customizable, giving players the ability to create the best-suited gamepad. Each one them can be mapped precisely and the hardware bits swapped easily for hassle-free use. The modular controller can be used standalone or paired with DualSense controllers. Two Leonardo controllers and one DualSense can be synced together to make a complete gamepad for PlayStation 5 console.

The controller will address problems including “difficulty holding a controller for long periods, accurately pressing small clusters of buttons or triggers, or positioning thumbs and fingers optimally on a standard controller.” For example, the split, symmetrical design repositions the analog sticks much closer or farther. This means the controller can be positioned flat on a table or wheelchair tray for ease of use. The buttons can be mapped for up to three profiles, so multiple users can use them in tandem without any major hassles.

According to Sony designer So Morimoto, the controller is tested with more than a dozen designs already in conjunction with accessibility veterans. The split design came out to be the most effective for “free-form left/right thumbstick repositionability” that’s almost perfect. Also, the controller can accept a plethora of combinations of accessibility accessories for a never-before-seen aesthetic.

We can expect to see more options and even subtle design changes as the project nears the production stage. For now, there is no word on the release date or pricing yet, but more should seep in in the coming weeks for sure.

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