When the elderly fall over, it’s serious. Hips are particularly vulnerable. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of people break these bones every year.
Developed in the Netherlands, the Wolk personal airbag is meant to offer protection. Containing an accelerometer and a gyroscope, it senses when someone falls and inflates quickly to offer a cushion. It’s a lot like the ones in cars, except the elderly wear it like a belt.
“Our launch customers are people in nursing homes,” says Filippo van Hellenberg Hubar, one of the founders of the Wolk Company. “Ideally they would wear it from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to bed at night.”
Wolk started out as a joke. To celebrate the December holiday of Sinterklaas, the Dutch have a tradition of making funny things for each other. Van Hellenberg Hubar’s colleague Hans Schröder made a dummy hip guard for his mother using an inflatable swimming aid. She liked it so much, she took it to her care home, and Schröder realized there might be a market. He contacted Van Hellenberg Hubar and the two started working together on an actual product.
In the Netherlands alone, one in three elderly people fall each year–about 1 million people in all. Wolk is targeting a particular group of “super needy” in care homes–about 300,000 people.
The video here is in Dutch, but it gives a good sense of how the bag works:
Van Hellenberg Hubar stresses the Wolk still needs work. The company doesn’t expect to have a device in stores until the beginning of 2016, at the earliest (the target price is about $470, or 400 euros). “We have a prototype but we haven’t done technical testing yet,” he says.
Making the bag as inconspicuous as possible will be key, he says, because something bulky will make people feel awkward. “It needs to be ergonomically designed so it’s easy for people to wear. It’s important that there’s no stigmatization and it doesn’t affect their shape too much,” he says.