Smart Crutches

Hamish Macdonald

Issue 16, October 2018

Most people would walk straight past a pair of ordinary underarm crutches in an Op Shop, however, you’ll read that a bright young mind saw a way to make crutches much more useful.

Hopefully, you’ll never have the need for crutches (touch wood), but if you do, have you ever considered how difficult it would be to use them? How would you carry bags when shopping? How would you juggle a torch if it’s dark? Would there be a better way to carry your drink bottle, mail, phone etc?

We heard that one of our readers set about modifying some crutches to meet these needs, so we caught up with young Hamish to find out more.

What made you want to develop “Smart Crutches”? Do you use them yourself, or are they for a family member/friend?

One day I was in an op shop and I saw a pair of crutches for sale. It reminded me of a video that I recently saw titled “Gadget Crutches” by Colin Furze (YouTube). That video inspired me to make my own! I got to work designing my crutches and introduced some new ideas that I thought were more practical. I tried to make this a handy and useful tool for people who need crutches.

It’s amazing what you can repurpose from an op shop. Do your add-ons convert any crutches into smart crutches or are all crutches different?

The two most common types of crutches are forearm crutches and underarm crutches. The design that I came up with is for underarm crutches. There are two main reasons for this: Firstly, because underarm crutches are the most common type of crutches, and also because there is a lot more space to attach gadgets. Although I would like to explore ways that my add-ons could attach and detach easily which could potentially turn any crutches into smart crutches.

smart crutches

Making the add-ons attach to different types of crutches sounds like a great idea. Walk us through each of the features currently found on your smart crutches.

At the top there is a phone case to hold your phone, but I think that I want to replace it with some sort of pouch so you can store other things as well like house keys and your wallet. There is also a power bank that I made so you can charge your phone on the go. The power bank is a really simple circuit. Its basically just a 12v car charger with a 9v battery, LED and switch. Its stored between some aluminium plates just below the handles. There is a water bottle holder attached, as a water bottle is a very bulky thing to carry otherwise. There is a carabiner so you can clip bags or shopping onto the back. And there is a massive clip to clip paper or mail onto. Finally, there are front and rear LED lights so you are highly visible at night.

Amazing! You have certainly made them meet a lot of everyday needs. Do all your add-ons contribute significantly to the overall weight?

When I first used the crutches with all the gadgets on them, the first thing I noticed was that they were heavier than before. I think about 40% of the extra weight is just all of the aluminium plates holding the electrical stuff in. The rest is all the add-ons. Overall the weight is not a big problem. If the crutches needed to be lighter then you could either take some of the add-ons off or source lighter weight materials, like thinner plates to hold the electrical stuff in, or an aluminium carabiner etc.

A smaller bottle of water could also help lighten the load as well. What features would you like to include in your Smart Crutches but haven’t been able to yet?

I would like to include some sort of “grabber” that could be operated from the handle. As bending down is not always possible when you’re on crutches it would be a lot easier to pick an item up off the ground with the grabber then put it on a nearby table so you could then pick it up with your hand.

I would also like to explore ways of adding and removing add-ons without permanently damaging the crutches. For example, if you broke your leg, and got a hire pair of crutches for 8 weeks or so, then you could clip on a water bottle cage and phone charger etc. without having to drill holes and bolt them on. Instead they could just clip on and off as needed.

It would also be handy to have an umbrella attached to the crutches for when its raining. It could fold down, and when its needed it could extend up to shelter you from the rain or sun.

Or for people who like to train at the gym, there could be a spot to add weights so you could build arm strength just by crutching.

"The power bank is a really simple circuit. It's basically just a 12V car charger with a 7V battery, LED and switch."

For safety purposes it would be good to have some sort of alarm so if you fell down stairs or something you could call for help easily with out having to scream out.

I would also like to explore a new light system with an easily accessible switch close to the handle.

Wow! They are some clever and thoughtful ideas, Hamish. Have you had any feedback from anyone using your Smart Crutches?

None of my friends or family have broken their leg recently (fortunately) so I haven’t had the opportunity to test them with a real patient yet; but my sister likes to use them around the house just for fun.

It will be good to have them on standby in case they are needed. Are there multiple pairs of Smart Crutches out there, or just the prototype?

I got the idea to develop smart crutches from a video by Colin Furze “Gadget Crutches” (YouTube). I then made my own design and called them smart crutches. I have only made one prototype and as far as I’m aware there are no others out there.

Perhaps if there were more out there you could combine your ideas to come up with the ultimate in smart crutches. What has been the biggest challenge with developing these?

Trying to find the right lights to put on the crutches took a while. Ideally, I wanted the lights to have a switch that could be near the handles on the crutches. But soon I realised that it would be too expensive to get lights on their own that would shine more than a few metres in front of you. So, I resorted to push lights which clip onto the crutches. They are not too difficult to turn on and off but perhaps they are not as bright as I would like.

There usually has to be a compromise with lighting depending on the brightness, battery life, weight, cost, etc.

If you started from scratch, would you change the approach, or was it about as successful as you wanted it to be?

Overall I was happy with how they turned out and don’t think I would change much, but I like thinking up ways I could improve them.

You should be proud of what you have achieved. What is the biggest thing you’ve learnt, having developed your Smart Crutches?

I did learn a lot of new skills like drilling on a round surface, bolting the add-ons in place, cutting sheet metal etc. But I also learnt that sometimes you have to persist when things don’t work out the first time and keep looking for a different solution.

That is some great advice for our readers thinking about starting their own project. Do you have any other amazing projects you are working on now?

Lately I have been doing a lot of woodwork. I do a bit of everything from whittling chickens, to woodturning bowls, to custom breadboards. I am also just starting at leatherwork which will be really fun as well. I love making keyrings and small things like that.

It sounds like you like to be creative and hands-on Hamish. Thank you for telling us all about your Smart Crutches. Let’s hope you never need to use them though.

Hamish Macdonald

Hamish Macdonald

Year 7 School Student, Perth, WA