Singaporean of the Year 2019

Seng Ian Hao and Seng Ing Le: Brother and sister's invention makes life safer for the elderly

Brother-and-sister team Seng Ian Hao and Ing Le invented the QaneMate, a portable walking cane holder that keeps the cane in an upright position when the user is not holding on to it.
From left: Seng Ing Le, 13, and Seng Ian Hao, 15, with the QaneBrella - a two-in-one walking cane cum umbrella - and a walking stick fitted with the Qanemate, a clip that secures the walking aid to a railing or table to prevent it from falling over.
From left: Seng Ing Le, 13, and Seng Ian Hao, 15, with the QaneBrella - a two-in-one walking cane cum umbrella - and a walking stick fitted with the Qanemate, a clip that secures the walking aid to a railing or table to prevent it from falling over. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Seng Ian Hao and his sister, Ing Le, have accomplished more than many other teenagers at their age.

They are the co-inventors behind the patented walking stick holder Qanemate, and also hold roles in the eponymous company they set up which manages the manufacturing and distribution of the device.

More than 1,000 of the devices have been given out here and overseas in places such as Japan, Britain and Finland.

The device consists of a large clip on one end that can be secured to railings or tables, with the other side attached to the walking stick. A thin rope from the clip prevents the stick from falling.

Ian Hao, the 15-year-old chief executive, and Ing Le, the 13-year-old chief operational and creative officer, were inspired to create Qanemate six years ago.

"We were at a hawker centre when we saw an elderly woman fall while trying to pick up her walking stick that had fallen to the ground," said Ian Hao.

Added Ing Le: "When we got home, we felt this overwhelming sense of determination to make a difference."

Both siblings felt the walking stick should not be a hazard, but rather a benefit to the user.

Two weeks later, Ian Hao used Lego bricks to build the first prototype of their portable mobility aid holder Qanemate. Qane is an acronym for Quality Ambulatory Novel Equipment.

The current version is the 17th prototype, after lots of feedback from senior citizens at nursing homes.

"Some of them would tell us the holder is too tight, too hard to open, or the handles are too small," said Ian Hao. The duo then worked to improve the product, such as adding a QR code feature, so if the user was lost, anyone could scan it for the family's contact details.

Five craftsmen from Bizlink, a non-profit organisation that helps disadvantaged individuals, in particular persons with disabilities, assemble the Qanemate. All five have autism.

 
 
 

Three friends of the brother-and-sister team also have roles in the company. Brian Tan is the chief finance officer, Coen Yap is the chief impact officer and Zachary Hsu is the social media officer. They are all aged 15.

Qanemate plans to continue partnering Bizlink next year, providing a "creative and empowering platform" for the craftsmen, said Ing Le.

In June, the siblings set up a non-profit arm, Qares, where 100 per cent of Qanemate's profits are channelled. The money will fund public education on usage and maintenance of walking sticks, as well as projects to distribute them free to those who need it, said Ian Hao.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 20, 2019, with the headline 'Brother and sister's invention makes life safer for the elderly'. Subscribe