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The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

A “Gaitway” to progress

Students develop an innovative app to aid older adults in walking
The Gaitway app uses virtual reality simulations to assist seniors in walking. The app utilizes multiple levels of increasing difficulty to encourage users.

After extensive coding sessions and thorough research, three high school juniors created a modern invention to help senior citizens overcome the mental and physical barriers that prevent them from walking.
McLean juniors Jaiden Saran and Sophie Zhang, along with Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology junior Jasmine Ma, used Apple XCode to develop a prototype for a virtual reality app called Gaitway designed to simulate walking, complete with different levels and packages as a source of motivation. The app must be used with a virtual reality headset, which can be as inexpensive as $10.
“Level zero is just standing inside your house; level one is walking around your house,” Zhang said. “You can purchase different packages. We have the regular [neighborhood] package, which simulates motions like walking around your neighborhood. We also did a $10.99 one-time purchase for the city package, which simulates walking movements in a city background.”
The idea was initially developed to fulfill the requirements of the Fairfax Area Student “Shark Tank” Technology Challenge, a contest designed to help ease the daily difficulties of older and disabled adults. Students entering must plan and design a product or smartphone app to confront a challenge that people with a disability or above the age of 50 face regularly.
“Our older adult population is growing nationally, and many older adults choose to remain in their own homes and live independently,” Fairfax Area Commission on Aging chair Cathy Cole said. “Developing tools and resources that make it easier to live independently will benefit a large segment of our community.”
The annual challenge is modeled after the hit American Broadcasting Company show Shark Tank, where contestants present their product to and negotiate investments with a panel of judges. Students in the Fairfax Shark Tank Challenge do not pursue investments, but they must create, test and present a product in the same fashion as contestants on the show.
“We believe that young people have very creative ideas and amazing skills to design products, apps, and tools that can make a difference in our world,” Cole said. “We also seek to develop entrepreneurial and presentation skills in students, which will become useful as they pursue future opportunities.”
Zhang, Saran and Ma all have grandparents in their lives that struggle to walk—when the team was brainstorming ideas for the Shark Tank Challenge, they asked their grandparents which issues they felt were the most pressing to seniors. Their grandparents then reported that difficulty walking was one of the most significant problems they face on a daily basis.
“We thought that walking injuries posed a huge threat to seniors’ lives, so [the topic] was a great way to connect our own experience and the challenge itself,” Saran said.
While Gaitway was originally intended only as an entry to the Fairfax Shark Tank Challenge, Zhang, Saran and Ma have since entered Gaitway in other innovation challenges, including the Diamond Challenge, Conrad Challenge and Toshiba Challenge. The team also plans to pilot-test the app in a senior living facility in order to receive feedback.
The idea and prototype of Gaitway are a testament to how teenagers can have a profound impact on communities through ambition and inventiveness.
“We think [the Shark Tank Challenge] promotes creative thinking and encourages innovation among high schoolers in our community,” Zhang said. “The innovations high schoolers come up with can really enhance the lives of older adults and help mitigate their day-to-day challenges.”

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