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StairWalker 2.0 [Update: The Designer's Journey]

A specialized cane that provides assistance and fall protection on staircases.

Photo of Robert Smith

Written by

Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

Anyone with balance or stability issues would benefit from this simple cane that can be hooked over and maneuvered along a staircase handrail, thereby transforming the cane into a two-handed assist-device and fall-prevention aid.

WHY 2.0

Having identified a similar product already available on the market, work on StairWalker 1.0 has been discontinued.  StairWalker 2.0 is a related idea that addresses some of the same issues with a significantly different approach.


CHALLENGE

Home staircases represent a real and often unavoidable challenge for individuals with balance or stability issues.


IDEA

This proposed system utilizes a cane with a specially-shaped handle to provide assistance to individuals ascending stairs.

The handle fits over standard handrails, leaving the body of the cane to act as a 'temporarily locked' pull-bar.

While this idea addresses strength-related issues, it also provides important fall protection, acting as a two-position grip against falling backwards down a series of steps while ascending when there is only one handrail available.

This idea can address problems that exist world-wide, and various solutions should be considered that address varying access, both economic and supply, to components or materials.


MARKETING & COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

A number of products currently exist that address fall prevention on home staircases.  These range from small handheld devices to electro-mechanical systems that transport individuals from one floor to another above existing stairs.

Some of these offer features which assist with carrying belongings as well, a key issue that can contribute to unsteady stair ascents.

Prices can range from $25 to $3000 USD, or even more if an installation must accommodate a curved or segmented staircase.

Representative products:

  1. An interesting and simple device is the ‘Companion Bird’, a “T” handle that slides on top of existing round cross-section handrails.  The device is brightly colored and offers an ergonomically shaped handle with integrated bag hanger.  This appears to be among the lowest priced products.  http://thecoolgadgets.com/companion-bird-concept-staircase-rails-hand-grip-anti-slip/


  1. “Stair Canes” offer a number of configurations, all of which focus on the end in contact with the steps.  These range from flexible “pads” to “Half-steps”.  These either offer a “third leg” while ascending or reduce the height of each step by providing an intermediate portable riser.  http://doesitreallywork.org/stair-climbing-cane-review/

    &   http://www.ez-step.com


  1. The “Stair Aid” is a formed tubular handle which, again, slides along a round cross-section handrail, but offers multiple grip sites and a custom installed rack to hold the device in place when under load.  http://stairaid.com


  1. Another device which requires an installed custom handrail is “StairSteady”.  This device is very similar in application to early work done for StairWalker 1.0  https://stairsteady.net


  1. “Stair Lifts” offer the most convenience for individuals but at the highest price and most complex level of installation, requiring both mechanical and electrical fitting.  These normally eliminate any need for climbing or descending the stairs as they offer a motorized sit/stand platform on which an individual can ride.  https://www.consumeraffairs.com/homeowners/stairlifts/


StairWalker 2.0 is intended to fall near the top of this list, with low complexity, no installation requirements and a price that should be very low for a globally-available off-the-shelf-components solution and not more than $150 for a high-end version.


USER JOURNEY

When an individual approaches one end of a staircase, they slip the handle fork over the handrail.  The individual can then pull back on the leg of the cane to assist them in climbing the staircase.

At either end of the staircase the individual can remove the device from the handrail and proceed with it as a standard cane.



USABILITY TESTING

The latest embodiment of the StairWalker 2.0 cane along with the illustrated User Journey were shared with individuals at a public staircase on University Hill in Boulder, Colorado.  I facilitated the testing while my colleague, Gregg, filmed.

Our first insight was that filming in a public environment can be noisy and a bit distracting.  Still, all the test participants did a great job of 'thinking out loud' and providing fresh perspectives.

Four videos are attached below:

  1. Introduction & general discussion with all three participants
  2. Part 1, Test Participant 1
  3. Part 2, Test Participant 2
  4. Part 3, Test Participant 3


Insights from the usability testing include:

  • Cane is perceived as too heavy
  • Cane should be adjustable in length (telescoping to avoid taking up so much width on stairs)
  • While providing good protection against falls down the stairs, stability in other directions would be valuable
  • When in use on stairs, the cane should be more perpendicular to the handrail (less angled)


ADDITIONAL USABILITY TESTING

     5. I had my parents try out the newest prototype for the StairWalker 2.0 cane.


My mother struggled to use the device as originally intended, describing the action as "...not too natural".  She believed, however, that she would do better with practice.

As with some users during earlier usability testing, she showed a tendency to hold onto the head of the cane where it hooks onto the rail.  There is a measure of security and familiarity in this behavior, indicating a natural evolution of moving one's hand from the rail itself to the device.

During testing she also provided some key insights on how she transports laundry up the steps, one of the few reasons she ever navigates the stairs into the basement.  This observation emphasized the importance of dealing with carrying objects, including this cane, up and down stairs.


My dad is a mechanical engineer with a very pragmatic sensibility.  He demonstrated an alternate gripping strategy that made him feel more comfortable and secure, essentially by holding the existing handrail with the majority of his hand and controlling the cane handle with just a finger or two.

The insight derived from this usability testing is that the handle/head of the cane could be redesigned with detents or flanged areas on the handle that could give a seat for the thumb and forefinger of one hand for handle control while leaving the palm and other fingers to grasp the rail.  These features could reduce the likelihood of a potential 'pinch point' between the handle and the rail.  The other hand can grasp the shaft of the cane to pull up the step or assist with balance.


(Alternate handgrip position)

This grip also simplifies releasing the cane at the end of the stairs as the primary hand still has a firm grasp of the rail when the cane comes off.

This testing has also lead to additional thoughts around a handle/head with a hook feature for hanging bags, as suggested by 'Companion Bird' (Marketing section, above), while continuing to refine the ergonomics of the handgrip areas.


THE DESIGNER’S JOURNEY

While having contributed to a number of OpenIDEO Challenges, this current challenge on fall prevention really resonated with me.

I live in Colorado, USA where houses often require numerous staircases to accommodate architectures that cascade down mountainsides.  I have parents and friends that could benefit, plus, after having a knee replaced, I have also had to deal with walkers and canes and struggled with flights of stairs while worrying about falls.

(Day after my knee replacement, 2016)

Combining my first-hand experience of the problem with a passion for designing with and for engaged individuals, made the idea of collaboratively designing a system to help physically challenged individuals navigate staircases particularly appealing.

The earliest idea was to transfer the utility of a standard walker to staircases, thus the name ‘StairWalker’.  I felt that by designing a system to address potential falls for private homes, I could extend the time aging people could live in them.

I was aware of stair lifts, but knew them to be expensive with complex installation procedures.  The hope was that StairWalker could be a relatively low-cost system, and one that could be easily installed as a replacement to an existing handrail.

That StairWalker still required individuals to ascend or descend under their own power seemed a valuable therapeutic physical activity promoting strength, coordination and, ultimately, increased independence.

(First 3D sketch of idea- a cardboard tube)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 

(First 2D sketch of StairWalker concept illustrating folding capability, support from a second handrail and internal braking)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 

A number of excellent comments steered early concept development for StairWalker 1.0.

Thoughts around geometry of the handlebar (Erin Campbell), the importance of robust braking in the event of a fall (Gregg) and clearance for others who might use the stairs (Zandri Kuun) prompted details incorporated in the first prototype.

(First prototype)

Early usability testing (Participant 0) exposed the issue of the ‘last step’ as an individual transferred from the StairWalker to a top or bottom landing.  Shaping and hinging (Kevin) the handlebar to address this were both investigated in CAD.

There were a number of valuable suggestions about the clutch/brake mechanism (Kevin, Gregg, Colin Lynch, Laith Al-Shiekh Hassan, & Amin Swessi), including ratchets, centrifugal clutches and mechanical clamps.

A valuable link forwarded by Bettina Fliegel introduced me to a number of products which could inform the StairWalker design.  One of these was StairSteady(TM), a system very similar to the StairWalker concept and already available in the UK.  To avoid potential intellectual property issues, work on StairWalker 1.0 was discontinued.

Not wanting to abandon the challenge, but needing a new idea, I went for a long walk…

Somewhere on the far side of a neighborhood lake the idea for transforming the installed handrail assembly into a portable cane with similar handrail-locking features came to mind.  I had enough worked out in my head by the time I got home that I was able to build a rough prototype from copper plumbing fittings and pipe I had left over from an earlier project.

Back in the game with StairWalker 2.0!

(First copper prototype of StairWalker 2.0)

Since that point, the design has continued to benefit from numerous comments and suggestions from the OpenIDEO community.

Michael DF, Kevin and Kumi all had suggestions around modifying the device to pad and protect both the handrails and the user's hands.

Comments from Kate Rushton, Joanna Spoth and Lillian J Warner all motivated me to pursue questions with potential end users about not only the practical experience of using the device, but equally important, the emotional side of the experience.

Follow-on Usability testing has exposed additional opportunities and the design has gone through four prototypes to date.

(Second prototype of StairWalker 2.0)

(Usability testing with third prototype)

(Usability testing with fourth prototype)


One embodiment of this idea offers a solution for anyone, anywhere in the world where simple iron plumbing fittings are available.  This approach was inspired by Sally James' comments about focusing on more globally-accessible solutions.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 

(A potential global solution consisting of Off-the-shelf components)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 


Another version suggests a path towards a manufactured product.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 

(Key features for a more commercially-oriented version)

_______________________________________________________________________________________________ 


The potential for StairWalker to help people exists because of the involvement of dozens of OpenIDEO contributors.  For me, the camaraderie shared along the journey has been the real joy.

Thanks!


What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Prototype a system with the emphasis on a robust and simple device that can explore hand positions and control while supporting representative loads.

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Design suggestions or refinements. Machine-shop services or materials to support building the prototype.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I'm an Industrial designer with new product development experience in multiple industries.

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone?

Home staircases represent one of the most dangerous fall hazards to individuals with balance or stability issues. The goal for this device is to allow a simple cane to be hooked over and maneuvered along a staircase handrail, thereby transforming the cane into a two-handed assist-device and fall-prevention aid.

How does your idea demonstrate our Criteria of Affordability?

By developing a number of related solutions utilizing different materials and fabrication processes, this device can be made appropriate for users and staircases worldwide.

How does your idea demonstrate or plan to demonstrate scalability?

The hope is that by focusing on simplicity of design, this device can be fabricated anywhere in the world.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Interest from AARP, health and insurance institutions, and the design community as well as enthusiastic acceptance from end users.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Facilitating continued design refinements necessary to make this a truly feasible (engineering), viable (business) and desirable (user-centered) product for multiple, global markets.

140 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Beatrice Rescazzi
Team

Hi all, is this project still going on? I am interested in contributing with some ideas. Hopefully, useful ideas.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Beatrice,

This project has completed, but OpenIDEO has many others ongoing which you can check out.

Good luck!

Bob

Photo of Beatrice Rescazzi
Team

Thank you for your reply Bob, I will check for more projects :)
Bea

Photo of Gregg
Team

Robert: Sorry you didn't make the final cut. I was impressed by your ability to "switch gears" from a wall-mounted device to a portable cane, and your cold molding looked very professional.
As a result of your approach to the challenge, I have been mindful the past two months when navigating steps and have made a few observations that might be of interest:
1) The human hand is an adept tool, if in good condition and exercised for grip strength; when cupped around a banister it can help prevent trips and falls.
2) Even better is two hands, cupped about opposing side banisters.
3) Probably even better is two banisters on each side, the second about 8 inches higher than normal--I have used such an arrangement a few times and, when descending, the higher banister allows the hand to be a little forward of the body and that should provide better "braking action" if a foot is placed so far forward that it misses the next step and your body begins to pitch forward.
4) A great guide to stair railing safety is offered at http://inspectapedia.com/Stairs/Railing_Codes_Specifications.php
5) A lesson learned for aging bodies: Do grip-strengthening exercises, knee lifts, and partial squats to have the strength to safely traverse stairs.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Gregg,

Good argument for keeping up one's hand and leg strength as the first line of defense against falls!

Interesting suggestion about a second handrail, as well.

Thanks for the comment. -Robert

Photo of Duncan Yorkston
Team

Hi Robert,

I've been following your idea since the beginning. I think this has great potential. I look forward to seeing further developments of your idea. Good luck!

Duncan

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Duncan,

It has been a winding journey, and I've enjoyed it immensely!

I hope a number of ideas from this challenge result in significant contributions to fall prevention.

Thanks for the support! -Robert

Photo of Srijay
Team

Hi,
I like the idea and the sketch presentation is very effective. I was using stick figures with my curbd idea but your method is easier to understand in terms of usage.

- Srijay

curbd: https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/fall-prevention/finalfeedback/an-assistive-device-for-curb-elevation-detection

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Thanks Srijay,

I had a drawing instructor once that told me industrial designers aren't paid to do fine art, they're paid to communicate ideas, and to use underlays whenever they can, especially for including humans in illustrations. That's been my strategy ever since.

That being said, if you're not using the human to illustrate scale, but simply workflow or process, simple stick figures work great!

Good luck, and thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Srijay
Team

Thanks Robert. I will remember the underlay tip.

- Srijay

Photo of Grace Park
Team

Hi,

I really like the idea of a device to help elderly walk up and down stairs, but I'm concerned that the cantilever design might not be stable enough for such an important task. What if there was a device that attached on both sides of the stairs, giving a lot of support, and when one is done climbing the stairs one side detached like a hinge and clip on to the wall on the other side? (even possibly magnetic?) This action might be easier for elderly to use than trying to clip it on the stairs every time, especially if they have arthritis or other issues in the hand.

Hope this helps!

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Grace,

Your thought is an important one. StairWalker 1.0 looked at a traveling handlebar that would completely span the width of a staircase, as illustrated in one of my sketches. I had to set that idea aside due to intellectual property issues.

A separable handlebar (rather than a built-in) that spans two handrails is potentially still a viable option, however. This bar could stay with the staircase rather than convert back to a cane, certainly a consideration if the user's coordination or strength is compromised.

Something to think about, thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Robert

Thank you for all your hard work in this challenge and dedication.

All of the ideas posts are locked but the comments section is still open, so please feel free to look at other ideas and comment on them, seek feedback on your idea etc.

I know I have asked many ideators this question but I am asking again as some ideas pivoting in the challenge. Would you say your idea is Most Viable or Most Promising? How would the incentives associated with that Award (Most Viable/Most Promising) be helpful for you?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Kate,

"Most Viable' implies a degree of readiness, either for manufacturing or implementation, that this idea may not have. I believe that StairWalker does, however, have the potential to be 'Most Promising'.

Based on comments from both the OpenIDEO community and usability test participants, the idea seems practical and actionable.

Additional thought and development work remain to address the final form, materials, finishes and manufacturing processes that define the cane components.

I would value time spent with IDEO's design and engineering staff to revisit some of my assumptions and the general design direction, as well as dive into some form studies and structural analysis of the head and adjustment mechanism.

Let me know if I can answer any additional questions you might have.

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Rodney Lobo
Team

Hi Robert Smith 
This is something only an Industrial Designer can think of; truly an out-of-the-box idea!
Using a cane to help the user climb upstairs is something very useful, as most houses have staircases in them.

I would like to suggest something: The cane's stairwalker attachment was used on the staircase's handrail, so the the shaft of the can was left hanging (as I don't understand how sturdy it is).
What do you think about having a similar second attachment fixed on the unused handrail or the wall? The user will, say, only have to push the tip of the cane inside this second attachment (at least when they are using the stairs at their homes), this might provide additional support.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Rodney,

You raise an interesting idea, and one that aligns with some of the comments in the usability test video, part 5. My dad liked positioning StairWalker so that he could hold both the head on its handrail with one hand and the tip of the cane near the second handrail with his other hand.

Having a traveling carrier on the second handrail that would be designed to carry the tip would offer better fall protection since it would create a double-ended support arrangement.

This would be great where both handrails are present and close enough together that the cane could span the width.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Robert!

It is great to see the new user testing and how stair walker is being refined and how the intended user for stair walker is becoming clearer. It really ties in with Joanna’s comment below - ‘One thing I've learned from sponsors is that one device should not be for everyone’.

It is also interesting to see how Stair Walker sits in the market place.

Also, we’re impressed! Over 100 comments?! We want to point out that not everyone will have time to read all the comments, so make sure you've included information that has helped shape or pivot your idea in the description of your idea above. Keep up the amazing collaboration!

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Kate,

Thanks for the kind comments!

I have pulled together a brief history of the project in a section I named, "The Designer's Journey". It really has been a great experience!

Thanks again! -Robert

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Robert.
The new videos are great. I really like the idea and provocation to consider a tool to help carry things while using stairs, as carrying things on stairs is one of the risks for falling.
https://nihseniorhealth.gov/falls/causesandriskfactors/01.html

One thought that came to mind from watching the video Part 4 was what if the cane/bar had a wider diameter? Would it be more comfortable and less awkward to grip?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Bettina,

Thanks for the informative link!

I agree that the cane seemed very narrow where mom was gripping it. I believe that having a larger diameter handgrip located on the cane shaft would help, both as an affordance indicating where to grip and a more secure, comfortable handhold. I've added one now to my latest model and it's definitely better!

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Robert and team,

Great videos: really clear with fantastic insights from the three participants. I like the fact that you chose three very different participants for testing.

We are half-way through the refinement phase and I can’t wait to see continued updates on your idea. More information can be found in the refinement toolkit which can be found at the top of the refinement phase page.

It would be helpful if you could mention how your solution fits in the market in the ‘full description’ section of your post. Who are your competitors and how is your idea unique?

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me, my email address is krushton@ideo.com

Hope to see you on the refinement call this Friday at 9 am PST.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Kate,

I really enjoyed sharing the concept with test participants! Lots of valuable thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

I've 3d-printed an alternative handle and plan to share that with some new test participants this weekend.

I'll also add the competitive market information you mentioned in my next update.

Thanks for the comments! -Robert

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Great videos, Robert!! Great insight that users might not know they are supposed to use the cane to PULL - it made a huge difference in how they were using it! And the strength v. stability comment, too. One thing I've learned from sponsors is that one device should not be for everyone - and in fact a device can even do more harm than good if the device doesn't meet that person's specific need. Also love that you got at the emotional aspect of the device in your questions. :) keep up the fantastic iterations!

Photo of Michael DF
Team

Hi Robert,
I think this is a fantastic idea and really like the concept.
The photos and sketch are a great illustration of how the device works.
I watched the usability testing and noticed that the cane handle slide down slightly when it was connected to the handrail. Is there maybe some sort of grip pad which can be put around the handle? This would serve two purposes, a) it would grip more firmly to the handrail when in use and b) the grip pad would be more comfortable in the hand when walking.
Michael DF
15 May 15, 2017

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Michael,

I agree that grip pads on the handle would make it more comfortable for the end user. Gripping surfaces would also help provide some friction when using it as a stair assist, as well as adding a measure of protection for the the railing itself, avoiding dents or scratching of paint, etc.

The current prototype uses some rubber hose from the hardware store to cover the relevant portions of pipe, but a more specialized material and conforming shape would be better.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Kevin
Team

Hi Robert,
Thanks for fixing the videos. It is enlightening to see various people using the current prototype.
I noticed the handle bend in 3rd dimension. I understand the reason. Will it limit the use in situations where only one hand rail is present or in countries with opposite side traffic conventions?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Kevin,

It would absolutely limit it to the use of a handrail only on one side, depending on the built-in angle. And, there's no way of knowing which side a rail might be on in all situations.

This issue is behind the concept illustrated in the second image (above) with the 'rocker plate'. I'm striving for a 'universal' approach, one that would work on either a left or right rail.

This issue is closely associated with fitting an unpredictable variety of handrail thicknesses/diameters.

Still open to some good ideas around this one...

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Robert. Excited to see the new update. The videos are currently in private mode. Can you change that to public?
Did the user give any insight to why they thought it was a problem that the cane was wide on the stairs? Why would it matter as long as it was not against the opposite wall?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Bettina,

My bad. They should be public now.

Yes, Participant 2 spoke about the concern of taking up the width of two people when using it on the stairs. A telescoping or adjustable/hinged portion section should alleviate that issue.

Thanks for checking out the videos, I'll be interested in your thoughts!

Robert

Photo of Erin Campbell
Team

Robert Smith Clever idea that is adaptable to a variety of railings. My concern is the ease of release at the top of the staircase. For people with compromised balance, standing at the top of the stairs trying to release the cane will put them in a precarious position. As you work on your design, imagine the person in your user journey (#6) has had a stroke and is unable to use his left arm. This is certainly something you can assess with your prototype during the feedback phase and modify as needed. Great user journey - very clear and well thought out.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Erin,

Dealing with 'the ends' of staircases has been an ever-present concern throughout this design process, and your comment goes to the heart of it.

The transition of getting off the top step and onto the floor at the top end of a staircase with a terminating handrail is very important. As you suggest, I will be observing how users deal with this and following up with questions during my usability testing.

Individuals restricted to the use of one hand present a special situation transitioning between any two systems. I might try having some of the test participants play-act through this to better understand how to address it.

Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Rebecca
Team

I love the simplicity of the design!! Assuming ease of attaching and detaching to the rail, the user is likely to gain signigicant confidence going up stairs! What are your views on how this would work going downstairs as the cane would be lower so it going downstairs using the same method may prove challenging. Also, have you thought about an adjustable clamp allowing for usage on various hand rail designs?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Rebecca,

I believe that this device can also assist with individuals descending staircases, though its real strength is helping them pull up the steps.

The latest embodiment for this concept illustrates a 'rocker plate' in opposition to the 'pivot'. The intent is that these are at a fixed distance apart, slightly further than the largest anticipated rail diameter. The rocker plate is wide enough that when installed and the individual pulls on the rod, the plate contacts the outer surface without rotating very much, keeping the rod essentially perpendicular to the rail for best leverage. If this works as intended, it should be more rugged and cost less than one with actual adjustable features.

I hope to upload some video demonstrating this, soon.

Thanks for your comment! -Robert

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Great user journey, Robert! I am tagging Lillian J Warner here for feedback once she has finished her finals.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Thanks Kate!

Creating the User Journey really helped me focus on the key interactions.

Now, to take it out into the wild...

I appreciate your thoughts and would like to add you to the team.

Robert

Photo of Lillian J Warner
Team

@Kate Rushton Thanks for tagging me! Robert Smith , I love what you've done. Like Joanna Spoth  said below, I'm curious about the emotional components of your device. How do people feel when they use it? Does using the device make them feel more safe? Less stigmatized? More stigmatized? I'd also love to see a video. I love the user journey you created--it is so clear and illustrative. Another thing I love about this idea is that it is empowering. I know many older people who decide to move because they don't want to live somewhere with stairs anymore. This device could enable people to stay in their homes for longer. Can't wait to see more from you on this idea. Way to go.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Thanks Lillian!

I've uploaded a still-image from some video shot yesterday, with plans to conduct more usability testing tomorrow.

The usability questions suggested by Kate Rushton , Joanna Spoth  and you are great! Now that I have a cane people can really tug on, it will be valuable to get their insights on both its use and how it makes them feel. I'm anxious to hear whether they believe that this type of device will enable them to explore further, reducing their hesitancy to take on staircases and new opportunities.

Thanks for the comments! -Robert

Photo of carole null
Team

Quite versatile and easily applicable in developing countries. Good job!

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Thanks, Carole!

I hoped that components like iron pipe fittings and rubber hose would be readily available across much of the world, and easily assembled with a minimum of tools.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Kevin
Team

Hi Robert,
I like the new sketches showing the use and new configuration of the cane handle.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Kevin,

Cool. I'm working on a new CAD model with the goal of streamlining the hook geometry and making it work with varying rail geometry.

Pictures soon...

Robert

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Robert.
I like the simplicity of your idea! Congrats on moving into Refinement.
I imagine that a user might have different needs overtime depending on physical condition and this tool might suit a variety of users. I had an experience using a cane for a few weeks, for a leg injury. I recall that on subway steps I stayed close to the handrail and did not always alternate feet when climbing. I stepped onto a step and then brought my other foot to the same step. I also used the rail to pull myself up at times. Will the Stairwalker be able to brake, step by step, if one needs support?

I was interested to learn how older adults use walkers on stairs. When I googled this post came up. http://daynatay.blogspot.com/2013/08/10-ideas-to-help-elderly-walk-up-stairs.html
One item is similar to what you are proposing although it is metal and expensive, at least as per the article. In the article see Stair Steady. Maybe learnings here?

What do you think of the "Companion Bird" from the linked article? I wonder if a grip of some sort might be useful for some, as a way to hold the rail for support, while using a Stairwalker? I like the way the woman in the photo took the opportunity to hang her bag around it.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Bettina,

Thank you for your research insights.

You note the Stair Steady product, https://stairsteady.net , and I complement Ruth Amos in the UK for her solution. I had no prior knowledge of her existing product until now.

I would need to understand the Intellectual Property situation around Stair Steady prior to any further development of StairWalker as currently envisioned.

The website you identified also illustrates other valuable work being done in the area of helping stability-challenged individuals to navigate staircases. Perhaps my efforts will now move in a different direction as well.

-Robert

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Bettina,

After some deeper research on the link you sent, I've pushed 'Reset' on StairWalker 1.0 in favor of StairWalker 2.0

It extrapolates the 'Companion Bird' into a cane which increases its utility.

Thanks again for the insights! -Robert

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Robert.
The 2.0 version is interesting. Did you make the prototype or is that an actual cane? Do you slide it up the bannister or take it off and reposition it as you move up the steps? The portability of this idea might be very helpful to folk. Looking forward to seeing how this develops, as well as 1.0 if you continue to build that one. The UK idea seemed to include the railing, as well as the bar. Was that your intention with your idea or were you trying for a product that would fit any rail? Would be great to have an affordable product in the US.

Can you share the ideas with people who use assistive devices now for feedback?

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Hi Bettina,

I built the prototype in the pictures out of standard brass plumbing fittings and tubing. Even though it's low-fidelity, it helped me get a good sense of how it might work and some of the drawbacks. Now, on to some refinements.

And yes, the workflow would start with hooking the fork over the rail, pulling yourself up one step, sliding the cane forward, repeat. Remove cane at the top, or hang on the rail for future access.

I value your comments and would like to add you to the team, if you're good with that...

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
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Hi Robert. Sure! Thank you for inviting me to the team.
I was thinking that having a mobile option might encourage some to go upstairs in places that they haven't been able to in awhile. I wonder if asking some older adults about the prospect of a mobile device like this, versus a more fixed option such as option 1, might be interesting?

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Hi Bettina,

Good point, this device could potentially extend an individual's range, opening access to new spaces as well as reintroducing old ones!

This capability could really help adoption.

Thanks! -Robert

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I love the simplicity and accessibility behind your idea, Robert Smith . It'd be especially neat to see a rough prototype - do you have one in the works?

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Hi Joanna,

I'll be putting some time into a prototype this weekend.

Based on a number of comments I've received, I'm going to focus on a shorter, cantilevered handlebar rather than the full-width version in the illustration. I hope to 'sanity check' the idea with a low-fi model first and then explore some of the clutch/braking functionality in a more advanced prototype.

Hope to share pictures soon!

Thanks- Robert

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Exciting! And I love your thinking on the low-fi model first before getting into the technical elements. Do you also have folks around who might be willing to offer some quick feedback? You could ask questions like, what stands out as good/bad about something like this? Could you see installing something like it into your/your parent's home? What do you know about falls that happen on stairs, etc. So looking forward to seeing how it goes over the weekend!

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Hi Joanna Spoth , Kate Rushton , and Zandri Kuun ,

I've uploaded some images of my low-fi prototype. This shorter cantilevered version still seems to have sufficient length for an individual to grasp comfortably with both hands.

Thoughts?

Thanks- Robert

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Hi Robert, I like your prototype! As an interior designer, I would suggest for you to make the length of the rail between 23" and 30". This is the standard for dining arrangements, as it is a comfortable width for most people. Great work!

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Hi Zandri,

Thanks for your cross-industry insight!

As a single data point, I measured the center-to-center distance of the handles of one standard walker to be 19 inches.

Henry Dreyfuss' Human Factors reference, 'The Measure of Man and Woman' gives a hip width for a 99 percentile adult male at 16.9 inches and standing adult female at 16.8 inches. If we assume handgrips of 1.5 inch diameter, oriented as in a standard walker with our user in-between, we get a minimum handle centerline width of 18.4 inches. Widening that to give some hand/thumb/clothes clearance brings us back to 19-24 inches, so I like your numbers!

Thanks again! -Robert

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So impressive to see what you're able to accomplish in a weekend! LOVE the prototype - it's always so helpful to see tangible versions. Still wondering if you have folks around who might be willing to offer some quick feedback? You could ask questions like, what stands out as good/bad about something like this? Could you see installing something like it into your/your parent's home? What do you know about falls that happen on stairs, etc. I think I'd be most interested in knowing how it makes people feel - do they feel more confident going down the stairs? Does it bring them joy? A sense of security? What's a 'wish' they have for it?

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Hi Joanna,

Yes, early prototypes prompt all kinds of new questions to supplement the original ones. I hope to share it with some seniors and other adults to probe on handlebar shape, height, size and need for a return mechanism. I will also be asking questions like yours to understand whether it's addressing their needs around security and confidence.

Great suggestions, thanks! -Robert

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Can't WAIT to keep up with your progress!!

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Great to see the prototype! How does it feel handling the bar? It might be worth recording some video footage of the stair walker in action to share for feedback from the OpenIDEO community.

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Hi Kate,

I just had a couple come over and try out the prototype. They raised some great questions!

While I've been focused on navigating the middle part of a staircase, they were asking about the end conditions: how does StairWalker work for getting up (or down) the last step since the rail would end even with the last step. This drove some interesting discussion about a handlebar with a dogleg in it.

They liked the feel of the bar and we talked about what motions might trigger the brake or free the mechanism.

Lots of great feedback for 20 minutes of interaction with the prototype! Perhaps I'll try to shoot some video which might help the OpenIDEO community see these issues and help solve them.

Thanks for the suggestion! -Robert

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Hi Joanna Spoth 

I'm thinking about building an OpenIDEO team for this idea and I'm not sure exactly how. I see the 'Add to team' link, so I selected it for you since I'd like to invite you to join. I've enjoyed your enthusiasm for the idea and respect your user-centered thinking. Are you interested?

Thanks, Robert

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Robert Smith yes that's exactly how you go about it! Adding people via that link and then a comment like this is an added bonus. :) Excited to keep up with your idea and offer help where I can!

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Oo I love the provocation about the end of the staircase - we definitely don't want people struggling with a device, especially at the top...
A video the next time you're able to gather feedback would be really fun to see. I'd also like to see you push into the emotional realm as you gather feedback. What are people's typical emotions approaching the staircase? Are they already confident with them, are they a bit apprehensive, have they fallen before and use great caution, etc. Another thought is that observing how (especially the elderly or children) use staircases, even in public places now that you have a mobile cane, could uncover some interesting user needs.

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Hi Robert,

There is a finalist idea from a previous challenge you might want to look at because it has a great example of the use of video footage in the prototyping process - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/top-ideas/all-generation-friendly-atm

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Hi Robert,

I am really impressed to see the amount of progress on your idea. It would be interesting to know how Stairwalker 2.0 works on different handrails.

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Hi Joanna,

Good idea! I need to head out into the world to start pulling together some comments and video that explore the challenges faced by individuals struggling to navigate stairways.

This will break new, but important, ground for me. I suspect the deeper story will indeed revolve around the competing emotions of: 1. fear about potential or existing injuries, 2. concern over embarrassment, and 3. the desire to remain independent, all of which should inform our design direction.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

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Hi Kate,

One of the key features of StairWalker 2.0 v2, a design intended for resource-challenged regions, is that it can be assembled from commonly-available plumbing components, and the spacing between the forks is determined by the selection of that length of coupling pipe. This lets individuals tailor their cane for their particular handrail.

For individuals desiring to take their cane out into public for use on different rails, the plan is to offer adjustment. Some common adjustment mechanisms are illustrated by the different tools in the third image, and I plan to incorporate something similar in my next prototype. I hope to capture some video with this next model.

Thanks, and stay tuned! -Robert

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Hi Robert,
I like Version 2.0!
It makes your device portable to more places where the user may need it.
A survey of existing handrails (shapes and materials) and building codes may be useful for refinements of the handle-to-shaft configuration. I think the round wooden handrail in my house would quickly acquire dents along its length very quickly.

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Kevin,

Yes, the scale of this idea feels a lot more manageable.

One area of consideration for this idea is flexibility or adaptability for different rail cross-sections and materials. I've seen rectangular, square, round, and any number of variations in corner radii, finger recesses, etc. Perhaps the "F' fork can be sleeved with rubber or have adjustable 'pads'. I'm thinking of the protective 'mar-resistant' caps on some hand clamps.

Another thought I'm going to explore is whether this cane can be fabricated from globally-available materials or parts. As an example: could someone assemble commonly-available metal plumbing components and standard pipe to create a workable cane for themselves? They could size it to fit hand-rails they would likely encounter and cover the fork with rubber hose or tape.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

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Hi Robert,
I've been thinking about a simple braking mechanism. I'm wondering about a centrifugal mechanism. Maybe investigate how seatbelt retractors work.

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Hi Kevin,

Novel thought!

Some comments I have received suggest a desire to summon/recall a mechanism from either end of the stairs. These imply some sort of cable/belt/strap that runs in a loop over pulleys at both ends of the rail and back to the sliding handlebar pivot (hopefully all inside the extruded rail). Might this tie into that? Could the centrifugal mechanism be in one of the pulleys at one end of the rail?

Thanks! -Robert

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I am actually thinking of a centrifugal clutch mechanism in the block with the handle. This would not limit the use with various hand rail/track configurations (straight, curved, turns).

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Kevin,

So, if I understand the concept, like automotive seat belts, steady translation along the rail would be allowed, but in the event of a higher acceleration (associated with a fall), the mechanism would lock the slider to the rail. If the brake is in the slider, it would likely need to engage with a rack-like (or similar) feature or it would need to initiate a 'clamping' force to the rail.

The brake would probably need to hold while the user stabilizes themself, we wouldn't want the slider to release prematurely and move. Does this imply a 'latching' brake requiring the user to intentionally release it?

Thanks for the comment. -Robert

Photo of Gregg
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Robert: Congratulations on making it into the semi-finals.
I like the StairWalker because it would provide assistance and added safety when traversing one of the most dangerous places in the home, stairs, at less cost and intrusiveness than a stairway lift seat.
However, the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that there are difficult structural and mechanical challenges to be met--particularly to function when users trip going upstairs or slip off a stair when going down.
1) Structurally, the cantilevered grab bar will work much life a crowbar when vertical force is applied to it, pulling the top edge of the track out from the wall. Fifty pounds applied an average of 14" out on the grab bar, would apply 200 pounds outward force on a top fastener that is 3.5" above the lower side of the grab bar. In many cases the track could be secured only to drywall over 2x4 studs, probably on 16" centers. So the track will have to be a heavy-duty and the fasteners will have to go deep into the studs.
2) The track needs to extend linearly at least 2' beyond the top and bottom step, so it will have to be at least 15' long, which will either require commercial shipping or the track has to be made in pieces less than the max allow by UPS. If it is to shipped in pieces, the pieces need to "key" to each other for perfect alignment and structural strength when the joint is between two studs.
3) The glide and the grab bar have to be strong but light, so that they are easily slid up about a 45 degree incline.
4) People with weak legs commonly use their grip on a railing to help pull themselves up and to help brake during a descent. Your horizontal grab bar will probably encourage even more tendency to do that. As others have suggested, a spring-loaded ratchet pawl running along a toothed linear member would probably work well when going up, although it will make some noise. How to provide a little friction when going down to counter the weight of the grab bar and glide mechanism and then automatically stop the descent of the mechanism when the user slips or starts to tumble downward--this is beyond me.
5) If you decide you cannot figure out how to overcome the engineering challenges, you might try to interest the stairway lift seat manufacturers--Acorn, Bruno, Sterling, Stannah, etc. They could fear that the StairWalker would cannibalize their seat market, but perhaps you could convince them that it would appeal to a new market segment, people who want some assistance with stairs but don't yet need stairway lift seats. Then point out that some of the StairWalker clients will later need the lift seats.
I do hope your StairWalker succeeds and become available to the millions of people who could benefit from it.

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Hi Gregg,

All of your comments are spot on, thanks!

1. On reacting the cantilevered forces: My current plan is to extend a 'tail-dragger' below the traveling sleeve. This extended bracket would carry an idler wheel that would roll against a 2" wide plate parallel to the handrail and located about 10-12" below it. This turns the ugly moment load present on just a single handrail into a combination of tension and shear up top and compression at the low roller (shear on the roller axle). With this approach I think I can get a robust attachment to the structural studs.

2. Rail extending past the end steps: This is a difficult problem as most basement stairs end at a door at the top. My current thinking is to either shape the handlebar to have a 'dogleg' that can travel past the door jamb, or have the handlebar rotate around a vertical axis at the top and bottom steps (released by the user with a simple lever). More work required here...

3. Strong and light: Yes, the plan is for circular tubing, extrusions, formed sheetmetal or machined weldments, all shapes that efficiently handle the anticipated loads. Probably rolling-element bearings, possibly bushings, for traveling along the rail.

4. Users pulling themselves up by this handlebar: My observations of people trying out my prototype so far inform me that in normal use (as well as in a fall), they can apply forces in any direction from horizontally forward, down through 180degrees of arc all the way to horizontal backward. My current thinking is to have a toothed-rack running on the face of the handrail and the handlebar will engage with this when it is hinged fully down. Therefore, to move the bar the user would have to lift (hinge up) slightly to disengage a tooth on the inside end of the handlebar. This small lift could be spring-assisted. Lots of detailed work yet to be done on this...

5. Stairway seat lift companies: Hopefully this product will be seen as an interim solution between nothing and a serious motorized lift, rather than direct competition.

I hope to upload an eDrawing (free SolidWorks viewer required) of my early CAD model to my idea page.

Gregg, I am looking to assemble a team for this idea and your comments show a good grasp of the engineering and marketing issues. What are your areas of experience and interest?

Thanks! -Robert

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Robert: I am worried that what started as an elegantly simple solution is becoming a Rube Goldberg device in order to make it functional, and that will make it prone to user errors in a target population that has physical impairments and sometimes cognitive ones.
a) The idea of a vertical axis pin and lock release for dismounting the device is clever, but it adds to the weight of glide/grip mechanism and if a user accidentally presses the release while on the steps, he/she could fall. Perhaps the release mechanism could be in the unsupported end of the grab bar.
b) The tooth-rack engagement provides a simple and solid brake, but it would require users to coordinate not only their feet but also an uncommon arm motion--to disengage the tooth each time user wants to move the grab bar up or down the stairwell, and during that motion the grab bar would be providing no support to the user.
I thought of and tentatively rejected the follow:
* an electric motor drive to prevent pushing/pulling falls--but most people walk the last few steps slower the the first few and thus a fixed rate would pose hazards.
* some sort of brake on the glide mechanism that would be the default unless a lever on the grab bar is depressed--but the lever could be accidentally depressed during a fall.
* some sort of brake on the glide mechanism that would be unengaged by default unless a lever on the grab bar is depressed--this is more intuitive than prior, but if user loses his/her grip on the lever, there is no braking.
* some sort of fall-stopping brake at one end the track, attached by a loop of cable to the glide, to reduce the weight of the glide, but the long cable becomes a source of maintenance.
I've had one possibly promising simple idea: Maybe the brake could make use of the torque on the grab bar when a person is falling. If the glide had some sort of bearing surface mounted on the interior and exterior side of the glide running within a large extrusion, and the bearing surface has low friction when little pressure is applied and high friction with substantial pressure, then each time the grab bar is torqued downward (or in any other direction) the brakes would be applied against the inside of the extrusion, hopefully locking the grab bar or at least substantially slowing its movement. Of course the bearing surface would gradually erode and dust would be discharged onto the stairs. I posted a drawing at
https://photos.google.com/album/AF1QipOsEb129FCD96qrjsyJXMzMLFT4D2WluuvUuxln
Re joining your team: I don't have any professional training related to this, but I am "mechanically inclined" and long ago I did well in college physics. I'd be glad to help.

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Gregg,

I understand your concerns about growing complexity. It's been my experience that simplicity is an excellent goal, and I only retreat in the face of legitimate reasons. In this case, the need to get our user up the top step (or down the bottom step) and onto the adjacent landing is in conflict with the original approach which focused on the middle portion of the staircase. This is where the real creativity will need to shine through.

I'm taking your concerns and suggestions to heart. My goal is still to be part of creating a robust and affordable system that can help people who struggle with their stairs situation every day.

Thanks for your comments. -Robert

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Interesting challenge!
I have a few suggestions.
First, maybe the bar design will need to swing around a vertical axis at the top and bottom of the stairs. It should include a mechanism to restrict the bar to movement one way at the top of the stairs and the other way at the bottom.
Second, I think new building codes require stairways to include a landing and turn. Therefore, the track for your design will need to accommodate turns and maybe horizontal sections.
Third, there may be a need to provide for carrying light loads while in use.

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Hi Kevin,

All good thoughts!

The specific challenge of getting off the staircase at the top and bottom is one I've been struggling with. Often the stairs end at a door, so the StairWalker rail cannot extend past the door jamb, at least not permanently. I mentioned a 'dogleg' shaped bar in another post, but it has issues folding up for storage. Also, this 'dogleg' bar must be flipped over by the user to change directions and this could be awkward while balancing at the top. Hinging around a vertical axis could be a good alternative, and limiting the direction (opposite at top from bottom) will be important!

As for landings and turns, my suggestion is to focus on straight sections likely to be found in older homes around the world for now, as these represent the more 'immediate' need.

For users carrying items on their trips up and down stairs, my current thinking is a built-in tray/shallow basket that could still fold up with the bar for storage. Room for hooks and hangars might also make sense.

Thanks for the comments! -Robert

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Very intriguing design. I have multiple grandparents that have fallen and hurt themselves pretty badly. I'm sure they would've benefitted from something like this. My only question is: would you sell it in parts that can be easily assembled or are you planning on handling the installation as well?

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Hi Colin,

My hope is that this idea, and others in this challenge, can help support individuals with stability issues, keeping them self-sufficient in their own homes longer.

Sales, installation and service for this type of system needs some serious thought. The details will depend on how the final design turns out. I suspect that the system would ship as four main components: Pivot/slide mechanism, handlebar, standard length rail sections (plus ends), and mounting hardware.

Installation should be done by professionals who understand the underlying structure (variable as it's likely to be).

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

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Hello Robert,

Wow .. this is amazing.
In my area are generally multilevel houses, with a rather steep staircase.
This technology is very helpful, with affordable cost.
Any small suggestions, can this be made 2 ? With a distance not too far away.
When leaning on one handle, then put the other up. When walking will open the other one while the other one is waiting. This will avoid falling while opening and installing a handler in front of it.

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Hi Eldy,

Interesting thought!

If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting having two handlebars, each on its own rail on opposite sides of the staircase. You could move one forward one step's distance, then advance the other one the same amount, almost like rowing a boat. This could offer more fall protection.

Something valuable to consider.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of eldy wullur
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Yes .. you are definitely right.

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin
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I love that its such a simple and effective tool! It will be nice to see if more such portable and universally designed walking aides can be made. May be having an attachable aid that controls the speed of shopping carts which seniors are using might be handy! Great job! Love your prototype!

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Hi Tuba,

Great thought! It would be wonderful to expand the solution for this particular problem into a family of related products. This helps me think more generally, more universally, about the design.

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Srijay
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Very interesting. Could perhaps this be extended to work on all stairs not just homes?

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Hi Srijay,

Good comment. I talked with someone whose relative was in a long-term care facility about the applicability of StairWalker in that environment. Her understanding was that most travel between floors was by elevator. Presumably the staff used the stairs. More research should be done on these facilities and other public settings.

The real advantage I see for StairWalker, at least initially, is allowing individuals more mobility for more years within their own homes.

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Colin Lynch
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Hi Robert - I love this idea - great thinking.

I'm very interested in how the brake/clutch mechanism of your idea will be designed. I recently saw a product that may be useful for you. It's a smart tool used to improve the task of lifting and moving large, heavy sheets of 4ft. by 8 ft. building materials such as sheetrock or plywood. It uses a clamping mechanism that allows the user to grip the sheet with one hand and carry it without putting as much stress on their back. A similar functioning device could be applied to your idea if it were rotated 90º to match the angle of travel along a stairway railing.

Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sxw5Lz0nRww

Colin

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Hi Colin,

I just watched the video in your link, very cool!

This kind of simplicity really appeals to me and absolutely seems applicable to the StairWalker concept. If I understand your suggestion, having this kind of mechanism inverted would allow the user to raise/lift the handlebar slightly (removing the clamping pressure) as they move up or down the staircase, but if they put their weight down on it (as would be the case if they were falling), the clamp would grip the rail. Nice!

Thanks for the comment! - Robert

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Exactly. I appreciate design simplicity whenever possible as well, so this concept sprang to mind when I read that you were interested in community input on the brake/clutch mechanism. I'm glad it was helpful.

The brake would have to be calibrated to engage only when quick directional forces (like those involved in a user falling onto or under the support bar) are applied to the system. In this situation the brake would engage, lock into place and "catch" the user. For unlocking the brake, it might be safest to build in an unlock mechanism that can only be reached when the user is safely standing upright and out of harm's way - probably in the housing where the bar meets the railing. This way if the user falls and is hanging from the bar, the brake can't be unlocked accidentally by some awkward motion of the bar itself as they try to pull themselves up. Once the user is upright again, the brake can be unlocked and they can resume going down the stairs.

You also got me thinking - the brake is a good solution for descending a staircase, but how would this device function for a person ascending a staircase? Maybe a linear ratchet approach? Similar to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDbLJR_bcZU?

The railing may be the key to this - a typical "smooth" railing for use with the brake on the way down the stairs and a second ratcheted railing installed above it for going up the stairs? To go upstairs, the bar and catch or brake engages each time the user steps up onto a higher step, then locks into place as the user pulls on it to lift their body up. When the user reaches a stable standing position after reaching that next step - the brake/catch would disengage so the user can then push/slide it further up and lock into position for a brace to pull on for the next step? Does that make sense?

Also - when going up stairs, would a second bar unfold in some way to extend behind the user so that it could catch them if they start to fall backwards?

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Colin,

You raise a very interesting point- that a fall could initiate a latched condition, 'locking' the handlebar in place until intentionally released. I suppose this implies two levels of 'resistance' for the system, one that is temporary and might kick in as an individual takes each step, and then the higher level which locks up the system in the event of a fall. This deserves consideration as part of a hazard analysis for the system.

Also, valuable suggestion on the ratchet for uphill. If the individual is truly 'pulling' themselves up the steps, then something like this may well be necessary to provide a temporary stop to react their pulling forces.

The idea of catching (or supporting) a user from behind is something I suggested to Samantak Ray whose idea Fitness Belay (a support system that empowers!) might be adapted to the StairWalker.

Thanks for the insightful comments! -Robert

Photo of Laith Al-Sheikh Hassan
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I like the design and feel it is very well suited for the purpose you are intending for. Looking through some of the responses and feedback, I agree that a ratcheting system with a fall break mechanism incorporated would be two good additions to the design. I a thought about how to return the bar to either end of the staircase: a hand crank or motorized crank that can be used to summon or send away the bar. That way regardless of who used it last, there is always a way to bring it the end of the stairs where it is needed.

Another thought was to incorporate vertical elements that act as a gate of sorts. In the event of a fall, the user may not have the reflexes or strength to catch themselves on the bar and could easily slip under the bar and down the stairs. Perhaps there is a way to adapt this fence to follow behind when climbing the stairs.

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Hi Laith Al-Sheikh Hassan,

Cool! Your comment speaks to something that I only recently began to think about after receiving a note about adding a spring-return to the mechanism. It does seem valuable to consider having a way to 'call' or 'send' the StairWalker from either end. This could work for either the individual or a caregiver. I would prefer to keep this mechanical in nature as a way to keep installation costs lower, along the lines of your suggestion for a hand-crank and/or cable arrangement.

I also find a lot of value in your suggestion for a traveling 'gate' to help protect someone who has fallen from slipping beneath the bar and potentially sustaining further injury. This represents another important idea supporting risk-reduction.

Great comments, thanks! -Robert

Photo of Amin Swessi
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YES!.. so cool.. that is how I had assumed yours was going to work.

Photo of Amin Swessi
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Elegant - have you considered a ratchet type device for the lock/clutch?

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Hi Amin,

Good idea for preventing undesired backward or forward motion of the StairWalker mechanism. It would probably be important to find a way to keep any 'tooth' features below flush to avoid pinch points, exposed sharp features and/or discomfort for individuals using the track as a handrail. Would also want to consider potential cleaning strategies.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Monalisa Hota
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That's a nice idea. Can it be used by more than one person at a time? E.g there are two adults who need a walker support while going down and up, would they need one each?

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Hi Monalisa,

Thanks! I've received a number of comments about multiple people needing access within the same home. So far, I'm suggesting multiple bar mechanisms on the same rail or, possibly, a rail/mechanism on each side. Two or more bars should increase the likelihood that one is always available on the end where someone might need it. Do you have any other suggestions?

Thanks- Robert

Photo of Monalisa Hota
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Hi Robert,
Sorry about the tardy response. Your solution sounds good. I was wondering if it would be possible to have the bars spring back up (and down) to their original positions. That way, each bar would belong to one end of the staircase; after the user uses it to climb up or down, it would spring back to its original position. A min of two bars and on either side of the stairs would be required in this case and they'd always be available. Thanks! Monalisa

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Hi Monalisa,

Interesting thought! I suppose that a spring similar to those in tape measures would allow the mechanism to return to its 'home' position after use. It might have to be a fairly strong spring to pull it uphill, but we would need to make sure it didn't pull too hard for the user. Also, it should probably have a 'soft' stop at the end so it didn't startle anyone. As you say, though, this would limit the number of mechanisms to two: one for up, one for down.

Thanks for the great comment! -Robert

Photo of Amy Vu
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Hi Robert, great to see how the prototype turned out. What material would you consider to make the bar easy to grip for older adults with various grip strengths? In what ways could you also make it a fun tool to promote physical activity as well?

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Hi Amy,

The final material choices should provide a secure, robust (long product life), and comfortable grip. Graphics can be integrated to facilitate proper use. I originally pictured over-molded thermoplastic elastomers or slip-on rubber grips. Did you see them differently?

Also, great thought about promoting physical activity as well! Hopefully this product helps individuals become unafraid of using stairs and so move more freely through their homes.

Thanks for the comment! -Robert

Photo of Kumi
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Hi Robert, your idea is very creative. I like the thought behind it. Do you think your design is user-friendly for anyone who suffers from arthritis in the fingers or hands, or has upper extremity weakness?

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Hi Kumi, and thanks!

You raise an important point to consider. One of my assumptions going into this idea was that this should try to provide equivalent functionality on staircases as standard walkers do for individuals on level ground.

You're absolutely right, though, that people who are likely to need this are also likely to suffer from related issues (arthritis, weakness). Certainly, the handlebar should be appropriately sized and padded. Do you have any other suggestions?

Thanks- Robert

Photo of Kumi
Team

Maybe think about different types of grips that you can design for the handle bar. For example, your current design you can only grip the bar one way - horizontally - which in one way is good, because there is no confusion for the user. But is that the most comfortable way for someone with arthritis or hand/arm pain to grip the bar? Maybe think about how other devices (like walker, cane, staircase bar) are gripped and held. Is there a reason those devices are designed with a "vertical" grip vs. horizontal? I don't know the answer, but I assume that walkers and canes are designed that way because we naturally walk with our hands at our sides.

Maybe think about placing visual or tactile identifiers on the bar - where your users should place their hands. I think that placing the hands wider apart is better for safety, and also mimics the hand placement on a walker.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Kumi,

You bring up some very valuable points.

I have introduced this concept with a straight handlebar for simplicity, but adding handgrips that take a different angle may be key to improving the ergonomics, use comfort and safety. A quick study of bicycle handlebar shapes gives us a lot of options to consider.

One challenge will be finding a shape that is bi-directional (individuals going up or down steps), or allowing it to 'flip over'.

Also, I agree that having the hands farther apart should be more stable for the user, and graphics that encourage that make a lot of sense.

Thanks for the great insights! -Robert

Photo of Joseph Hong
Team

I like the functionality of the prototype and the potential for widespread applications -- wondering if the handlebar can be adapted for other types of staircases (e.g., curved and L-shape)?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Joseph,

Good thoughts! I have received a couple of comments about stairways that might not be straight. I see no reason why this mechanism couldn't be designed to accommodate curved staircases and 'L's.

Staircases that form 'U's might be difficult as the turn radius could be very tight.

This will be something to consider as the design evolves.

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Devendra Natekar
Team

Hi Robert. Like the simplicity of the idea. How do you plan on accounting for different shapes and sizes of the railings? Have you thought of replacing the guide with an adjustable "band" that would just go around the railing, thus providing a guide that does not depend on the shape of the railing?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Devendra,

It would be great to come up with a solution that accommodates existing rails. My concern is that not all handrails are structurally sound enough to handle the possible loads, especially in older homes.

For now, I'm imagining a custom rail that matches the traveling handle mechanism, but a more flexible approach for the next version could lower installation costs dramatically.

Thanks for sharing your comments!

Robert

Photo of Sally James
Team

This idea is wonderful. I hope you don't let overthinking or perfectionism get in the way of low-cost. Are you dedicated to creating an #opensource DIY model that can get downloaded internationally for widespread use and further refinement? Could part of this be 3D printer friendly? Many engineering schools might choose your project to give students for further refinement. I'm near Univ. of WA engineering. Could share some contacts.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Sally James , and thanks!

I'm a believer in starting at low-fidelity and learning as much as I can before moving to higher levels of complexity. My first prototype really just speaks to how the general concept feels, how it behaves differently going up or down the steps and whether it interferes with other users of the stairway.

I'd love to facilitate a wider audience looking at the engineering details for this idea. Perhaps OpenIDEO can help arrange such discussions and brainstorming opportunities. And thanks for offering a connection with University of Washington's engineering department. Let's keep in touch!

Thanks again! -Robert

Photo of Sally James
Team

You are so welcome. My thought was that you would add some "engineering" students or post-docs to your team and gain more momentum because of their commitment to joining you in the problem-solving. Might also raise the profile of the device via social media by students. My father is 96. If I could buy him your device as a Kickstarter - I would be investing.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Sally,

Great idea! I guess I need to learn a bit more about building OpenIDEO teams.

Do you teach at the University there in Seattle?

Robert

Photo of Sally James
Team

Hi,
I don't teach at UW. I am a science writer and have written about some inventions and engineers over the years. Very enthusiastic students frequently create a buzz in a hurry when they join a project. What city are you in?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Sally,

I live near and work in Boulder, Colorado, home of Colorado University, so I understand that enthusiasm.

Robert

Photo of Sally James
Team

I could not help noticing that Colorado State has a mechanical engineer "Senior Design Program" for seniors at the college, not seniors (as in elderly). How about making an old-fashioned telephone call to them? http://www.engr.colostate.edu/me/senior-design-program/ Maybe they would offer to partner with you in some way.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Great idea! I just checked CU's Boulder campus online as well, and dropped their Innovation & Entrepreneur group a quick note. Maybe it will stir some interest.

Thanks! -Robert

Photo of Sally James
Team

Hooray. I'm rooting for this. My Dad needs it.

Photo of Ken Thomas
Team

It's really great because it's a proven concept - but simplified to its function essence. It lends itself to a number of durable, yet cost-effective materials and manufacturing processes. I can also see that it could be used for facilitating movement of groceries and other supplies from floor to floor. Also, many older homes have external stairs from street level to yard, yard to porch, etc... and so an outdoor-grade version might help create a full solution to mobility and safety on stairs.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Cool! All good thoughts to keep in mind as this idea moves forward! I hadn't considered an outdoor version, but that's another reason to likely keep it all mechanical- removing risk of electrical shorting hazards, and keeping costs down and reliability high.

Thanks, Ken!

-Robert

Photo of Nenio Mbazima
Team

Hi Robert
With your idea you are sitting on a gold mine.
Some homes have U shape or L shape stairs, is there a turning mechanism that will allow the user to turn the Stair walker to the new section of the stairs or every part of the stait's have its own stairwalker?
Regards
NENIO

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Nenio,

Well, I hope the OpenIDEO community can find a way to make this idea, and others, happen and help a lot of people who would benefit from them.

I can imagine that this mechanism could be designed to negotiate turns. Depending on the added complexity, it might just make sense to have separate StairWalkers on each leg of the staircase. Interesting to consider...

Thanks for the thoughts! -Robert

Photo of Ken Thomas
Team

Awesome idea! Looks efficacious and cost effective.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Ken,

Thanks! Hopefully simplicity and universal application will keep the costs down, helping adoption.

Robert

Photo of Gregg
Team

Robert: I think this is a interesting idea and offer the following suggestions:
1) Since this will require a special guide for the bar, perhaps consider its normal vertical position to be at about the user's shoulder height, to provide better support if he/she starts to fall. This will also allow the regular handrail to remain in place for other people's use.
2) The tricky part will be the brake, and ideally the brake should work so that the user cannot fall downward or upward, but if the support pole is shoulder height, it might not be necessary to have a brake operating on the uphill side because pressure on the pole will be mostly downward and thus it will not slide uphill. Still, you will need to test a prototype carefully.
3) Re ideas for the brake: Check those used on escalators, elevators, construction hoists, and even in-home stairway seating lifts.
I hope you can make this happen.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Gregg, and thanks for the comments!

I like your thoughts about having this being offset from the normal handrail, acting as a supplemental support. This also speaks to not compromising the normal handrail for other users of the stairs.

I agree that the brake/clutch is the tricky part, addressing individuals falling forward or backward. Good insight on some of the differences about falling 'uphill'.

I'll see what I can find on some of the braking mechanisms you mention.

Thanks again- Robert

Photo of Nguyen Loan
Team

Hi Robert, this is very a great idea. I only have one thing that confuses me This handlebar can store out-of-the-way, but when people use it, they need to " reach up and lower (hinge down) the handlebar" and this may block the way. However, if two people want to use the stair (but one does not need to use the handlebar), there will be some inconvenience for him/her. Have you ever thought to shorten the handlebar, or maybe only put it in one side of the stair and make it mobile only one side of the stair?

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Nguyen,

Yes, good thoughts!

I've had a number of comments on the original idea which was illustrated with a full-width bar. This was intended to counteract forces applied when individuals lean on it.

My current plan is to explore a shorter cantilevered bar design which will allow for cross-traffic on the stairs (although on home staircases, I would expect this to be fairly rare). The real challenge then becomes reacting the cantilevered forces back at the attachment of the rail to the supporting wall.

Thanks for the comments!

Robert

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Robert

Really cool idea and very nice illustration. I have two questions:

1. From doing research for this challenge I read several times that people are more likely to fall when trying to carry something up or down a stairs. Could your idea facilitate this? Perhaps with an optional tray or something?

2. Have you thought about how it will attach on to different hand rail styles and shapes? You know how some have a rectangular profile, some a rounded square, some circular, etc.

Best of luck with it :)

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Michael,

Good point from your research about carrying objects causing fall issues.

I've seen standard walkers with any number of hooks, baskets and bags attached to them as individuals struggle with this challenge on their own. I've also seen water-bottle holders, integrated seats and exotic decorations, so people don't seem opposed to 'making these their own'.

StairWalker has a somewhat different challenge in that it might fold up to be out of the way for other traffic, and it's a shared resource so people might not be as tempted to customize it for themselves. Perhaps the simplest thing to do would be to either integrate, or allow attachment of, a shallow tray/basket (1-6 inches deep) onto the handlebar to accommodate smaller objects such as keys, cups, glasses, magazines, books, food/plates/bowls, mobile phone, etc. This could still fold essentially flat against the wall in the stored orientation.

Also, the bar could accommodate hangars or other hooks for carrying purses, grocery bags, etc.

As for the rail itself, I've always assumed that StairWalker would require an extruded aluminum rail (or similarly manufactured shape) to replace existing handrails, primarily to address the potential loads involved, robust attachment to supporting walls and offer known geometry to enable the clutch/brake mechanism. This rail could come in a variety of standard lengths and finishes to suit specific installations.

Thanks for all the thoughts!

Robert

Photo of Miles Deodatis
Team

This is a very simple yet excellent design, it seems easier to install and is not much of an obstruction as it seems that you can fold it back upright if needed.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Miles,

Yes, that was my intent. Whether it is spring-loaded to return automatically or simply hinged which would allow it to be stored upright is still up for debate.

Thanks for the feedback!

Bob

Photo of Ethan
Team

This idea is really creative and seems feasible. It is a much more inexpensive alternative to other stair case assisters. However, I have one question, if there is more than one person needing this, how will the next person get the StairWalker back? Is there a recall button to move it up or down depending on the demand.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Ethan,

The original vision was for this system to be entirely mechanical, to make it easier and cheaper to install. My first thought, therefore, for more than one user was to have multiple bars which could stack at the ends and thus be available for someone approaching the steps from either end. Do you have any other suggestions?

Thanks- Bob

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Robert!

Welcome to the challenge! I think I understand how your 'Stairwalker' works, but would you be able to draw a quick rough sketch and upload it to your idea post? I just want to be 100% sure.

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Kate Rushton ! I've added a sketch and some clarification. Does that help? Thanks!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Yes, this is incredibly helpful! Thank you!

Photo of Zandri Kuun
Team

Hi Robert Smith ,
What a brilliant and simple idea! I absolutely love it, and wish I thought of it ;-)
It is a very effective idea in securing the attention of a elderly person while climbing stairs, while also providing them with safety net which is very similar to a grab rail.

Have you thought of what happens when the device is upstairs and a potential user is downstairs? If there are two people in the household that require the device, this scenario could be entirely possible. Maybe you could consider a rotary system consisting of two devices as an option? Then, when a user is going downstairs, the other device could be pulled upstairs and vice versa.

Looking forward to see some sketches!

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Zandri Kuun ! I've added a sketch and some clarification addressing your questions. Thanks!