Our team is working to create a mobile, comfortable foot brace for people suffering from foot drop, allowing them to walk again.

Photo of Steven Kao
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Technology

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Instagram: @ferrofootteam Email: ferrofootteam@gmail.com Contact Steven Kao (team lead): (650) 484-9868

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Multiple Sclerosis is a disease affecting over 2,300,000 people worldwide. Many of these people, as well as 20% of stroke survivors and up to 10% of patients of certain surgeries, experience a symptom called foot drop, Foot drop affects the patient’s ability to lift their foot, impeding their stride and sometimes preventing walking altogether. Foot drop poses several risks, including foot injury, risk of falling, and increased fatigue. -Avi

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are strong adherents to the design thinking philosophy: fall in love with the problem first, then find a solution. Ferrofoot is the brainchild of dozens of hours interviewing potential users and experts in neurology and physical therapy. Ferrofoot looks like a regular foot brace, but its design is more nuanced. It has a small brake which controls the movement of the ankle joint, selectively restricting the motion of the foot. We have experimented with different brake mechanisms, but we have tested one idea in particular: the brake is composed of a small cylinder containing magnetorheological (MR) fluid and a paddle, which is connected via an axle to the motion of the foot. By sending a current through an electromagnet surrounding the brake, the viscosity of the magnetorheological fluid changes, making it easier or harder for the paddle to move through it, and in turn allowing for increased or decreased foot movement. We can toggle the device on and off via a pressure sensor at the heel, turning on when the foot is in the air, preventing it from dropping, and releasing it when the foot is on the ground, relaxing the foot. -Avi

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

You know that feeling when you realize that you’re meant to do something? Well, growing up, I never felt it. Sure, I knew I liked mechanical engineering, but something never felt complete. One day, on the advice of a former robotics teacher, I went to the Center for Independence of Individuals with Disabilities near my house. I learned about Multiple Sclerosis and how it debilitates millions of people across the world. Suddenly, I knew that I had to do something to help. I reached out to Laurel, a technology teacher suffering from MS in my community, and I created a team of six other students at my school to help solve her problems. For the past year, we’ve been working on designing a foot brace that would help her walk again. After meeting Laurel, I realized that as a changemaker, I could design technologies to help countless others like Laurel. I finally felt the click! -Steven

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

We would have never come this far without Laurel. Our team was connected with Laurel, a local multiple sclerosis patient, through Project Invent, an organization founded by a former teacher. In the beginning, our team targeted multiple sclerosis as a whole. However, after hearing her story, we realized that MS included a variety of symptoms occurring differently for every patient. We found that the most difficult symptom Laurel faced was foot drop. This symptom greatly impacted her mobility, often preventing her from safely moving around her house and keeping her from doing outdoor activities she used to love. As we developed our brace, Laurel also acted as our primary user trying out our prototypes and providing us with crucial feedback. She has encouraged her friends with MS to talk with us as well. We are proud and touched how happy Laurel is for us. -Alicia

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

An ankle foot orthotic (AFO) does work to mitigate foot drop, but it causes so many more problems: the inability to descend stairs, the inability to drive, the inability to walk on rough terrain, etc. The alternative is functional electrical stimulation, which stimulates the peroneal nerve with electrodes. But it comes at a high cost: $5000 to buy it, $30 every few weeks for new electrodes. Its price point alone makes it inaccessible to many users, so we asked ourselves: how might we solve the problems of an AFO while still preserving its current functionality and low price point? -Elliot

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

We are working with three mentors: Rafi Holtzman, a local business and design expert, Triple Oswald, a teacher at our school, and Harrison Lin, a mechanical engineer at Carbon. Our mentors have been so helpful this year by giving us advice and support towards our next steps. We have spent a year working with Laurel, and she has recommended several other users in our area who we are currently reaching out to. We’ve also reached out to MS communities online and have received some amazing, positive responses. We presented at an event at the Stanford d.school in front of a panel of business people, mechanical engineers, and designers, and we received the top prize out of the 12 teams. We were awarded $1500, and we have accumulated a total of over $2000 in funding. We’re really excited to use the money we’ve won towards reaching out to more users and helping more people! -Hannah

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Currently, we are looking for alternative solutions that may be more effective by looking for more users to interview and test our product with. We are meeting with more specialists and physical therapists who can help us refine our product and understanding of the problem itself. We are also looking to increase the versatility of our product and potentially help people outside of our current user base. Additionally, we plan to apply for more grants such as the Paradigm Challenge and the Jacobsen Institute for more funding for our product, which would primarily go towards a second round of prototyping and outreach to find new users. -Carissa and Sophie

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Marketing Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Donations between $100-$1k
  • Donations between $1k-$5k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Email
  • Word of mouth

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 75%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 25%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 25%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 75%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 50%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 50%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 25%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 50%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 25%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

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Attachments (4)

Testing w: Laurel.png

User testing with Laurel

The Team!.jpg

Team Ferrofoot with our investors Sam Yen, Bob Baxley, and Mar Hershenson.

Ferrofoot Prototype.png

A working prototype model of Ferrofoot

Presentation @ Stanford University's D.School.jpg

Team lead Steven Kao presenting at Stanford University's d.School


Join the conversation:

Photo of Asher Meth

Hi Steven- This is a really novel way of aproaching this poblem. I have had some joint issues in the past, and I woder if this technology can be used in a brace to help an athlete recover from a torn acl? This technology seems like it can be really useful for the medical field.
Best of Luck!

Photo of Sarah Holcomb

Hi team — great work here! I’m so impressed by how you’ve used design thinking to take on a specific problem and implemented user testing to create your solution. It looks like your team is also doing a fantastic job by putting collaboration at the core of your project. You indicated that marketing expertise would be helpful, and I think that’s spot-on. Here’s a marketing guide worth checking out:https://www.unltd.org.uk/our-support/learning-area/developing-your-marketing-strategy-and-marketing-plan. Best of luck!