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UC San Diego Students Create Devices to Improve Lives


Falls are the leading cause of death from injury among people sixty-five and older, killing more than 400,000 people each year. For Jun Lu, a recent electrical engineering graduate of the University of California San Diego, that number became real when his great grandmother died after a fall. 

During their research, the AirSave creators found that fatal falls occur mainly because of an impact of the hip but that impacts to the spine, neck and head are also common and can be catastrophic for the older adults. 

“We wanted to create something all-encompassing,” Mr. Frischer said. 

The device includes a set of four air bags (one protecting the neck and cranium and three around the waist for hip protection) and a CO2 cartridge from a paintball gun to inflate them just before hitting the ground. 

The students are using the resources in the UC San Diego EnVision Arts and Engineering Maker Studio to fabricate prototypes. 

The AirSave Team with their Prototype

“We used the 3D printers to fabricate the 
air bags and the housing for the electrical components, and other tools like the function generators,” Mr. Lu said. 

Added Mr. Frischer: “We learned a lot about the process of designing. The biggest lesson was that we needed to design for the people we were making the device for. Initially, we thought we wanted to create a vest, but after talking to older adults, we decided on an exoskeleton.” 

The change came about after the students spoke with residents at the La Costa Glen retirement community in Carlsbad and similar facilities. 

AirSave1 - ECE Competition.PNG

The AirSave system includes a sensor that collects acceleration and coordination data and determines whether the person is falling, or just bending over to pick something up. 

Together with electrical engineering graduate students Aida Shahi and Borhan Vasli (who are both specializing in machine learning), and Gabriel Frischer, a third-year neuroscience major at UC San Diego, Mr. Lu created a device to protect seniors from this kind of accident. 

The device, the AirSave impact protection system, took second place at a design competition in June. The competition was part of the university’s Healthy Aging Initiative and is the result of a collaboration between the UC San Diego Center for Healthy Aging and Jacobs School of Engineering. The goal for the program was to improve quality of life for older citizens. 

“We’re still working to improve the algorithm,” said Mr. Lu, who plans to work on the project full time next year. “The best part is this is only the beginning.” 

In first place at the Design Competition was the group that developed the MightyCart, a motorized, foldable shopping cart users steer by pressing sensors on the handle, making it easier to handle heavy loads. 

The team that took home third place was Team VITA, which developed pressure sensitive carpet tiles embedded with LED lights that light a person’s path in the dark and alert others when someone has fallen. 

This design competition was supported by a pilot grant funded by the UC San Diego's Center for Healthy Aging. To help us support future competitions and pilot studies, please consider making a donation today! To support our work online please click here. To make a donation by mail or for further questions, please contact Danielle Glorioso, LCSW, at and 858-246-0767.

NOTE: We will issue an anouncement to invite applications for innovative, multi-disciplinary research or education grant proposals for the 2016-2017 cycle, in late July of 2016. This will be issued in a campus-wide announcement. Please contact for additional information.