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StairWear [Updated 5/29 - Final models, process videos, website, pitch deck]

Custom, bespoke steps that fit over existing stairs, providing more space for the foot, more grip and better visibility for elders.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it enable older adults to live their best possible life by preventing falls?

Anyone with stairs in their home. As people grow older, many have to move home as they can no longer use their stairs, or they are forced to live downstairs. Stair lifts are expensive, take time and expense to install and maintain, and, worst of all, users become dependent on them. It's important that people continue to exercise as they grow older, and using stairs is a great way to do this. These products make the stairs easier and safer to use, enabling users to live their best possible life.

The first section details our product, while the second section details our process and plans for future development and testing.

PRODUCT

Brief overview

Note: For a more extensive background, check out the original.

Inspiration: Our inspiration for this idea comes from two sources in particular. 

First, team member Louise recalls how her grandmother has had two bad falls down the stairs in her home as the steps are too small for her feet. She and her husband now live downstairs while their carers live upstairs. 

Second, a local architect who provided a lot of help with this project told us about how his mother had to look for a solution last year when she could no longer use her stairs. The best solution offered to her by health insurance was to live downstairs and build an extension onto the house, and they would only partially fund this construction.

Our Product: Stairs can cause elderly users and people with disabilities to fall, they can prevent them from going upstairs in their home, and they can often force the elderly occupants to move out. This is especially true in older homes with steep stairs and small steps, and for steps that visually 'blend into each other' (carpet designs/wood make it difficult to differentiate between steps). As people get older and their sight and depth perception worsens, they can find it difficult to see the different steps, reducing their confidence and increasing their risk of falling. 

StairWear offers a suite of custom-fit accessories that fit over existing stairs/steps and provide:

  • more space on each step
  • better grip
  • improved visibility


Though we originally planned to focus solely on indoor stairs, it quickly became apparent through our research and testing that there is a huge demand for a similar solution for outdoor steps. We also realized that not everybody will have space to expand their stairs, or may not want the full product, and so we designed StairWear Grip Strips - a simple, elegant solution that provides extra grip and improved visibility (even at night, thanks to white glow material).

While our proposed solution may appear simple and obvious, it has only been made possible with recent advancements in digital fabrication technologies (3D printing, laser cutting, CNC cutting, etc.), parametric modelling, and cloud-based decentralized manufacturing. This combination, known as 'Mass Customization', makes it possible to produce custom-fit products at a mass manufacture scale and price. Team member Michael is a PhD researcher for an EU 2020 project which aims to create a platform that allows users to create custom products and have them 3D printed locally. We strongly believe that this same approach can be used for making people's stairs safer, as each set of stairs is unique and so requires a custom fit.


StairWear User Journey 

                 

 


 

StairWear Wesbite

               


StairWear Pitch Deck

                 

Please also see attached Business Model Canvas.

StairWear Back-End (Logistics), Building Codes, Product Timeline & Industry Feedback

Please see the documents on the topics above in the 'Attachments' section.


DESIGN PROCESS

Brainstorm

Our team held a brainstorm session to thoroughly map out our known problems with existing stairs and to see how our solution addresses these problems.

               

From here we were able to put together a list of questions we needed answered. The key outcomes are provided below:

  • Who is our customer (person who buys the product)? Is it our end-user (person who actually uses the product)? Is it a family member/carer? Or healthcare providers?
  • What is the market demand (international)?
  • How do people use stairs? What are their feelings towards using stairs? Why?
  • Is our proposed customer experience desirable? (everything from shopping and installation to everyday use and maintenance)
  • What are the technical design challenges/issues?
  •  Any other barriers to adoption?


User testing and ethnographic research

To answer the above questions, we referred to the IDEO Method cards and used the ones best suited to our needs. You can view our process here. Methods used include observations, simple prototypes, day-in-the-life, and semi-structured interviews, among others. We carried out this cross-cultural research and testing with:

  • Potential end users
  • Family members of potential end users
  • Care givers and nurses
  • An Occupational Therapist
  • Post Doctoral Researchers with PhDs in designing technology for elderly users
  • Architects
  • Construction experts
  • Manufacturing, Production and Civil Engineers
  • Other designers


             


You can view the full document here, and an overview of the key findings is provided below:

  • People  love the idea and would be willing to buy if it existed
  • Also a lot of demand for this product on outdoor steps
  • Improving the visibility and being able to easily identify different steps is extremely beneficial
  • Even if some customers don’t have the space to add much room to each step, the product is “definitely still worth it” for the added grip and improved visibility.
  • Our biggest design challenges relate to securing the product to existing stairs and ensuring that there are no tripping hazards
  • Professional assembly/installation may be required for added safety, but should only take an hour
  • CNC cutting is a possible alternative to 3D printing that should be explored


Personas

From our research findings we created two personas for reference throughout our iterative prototyping and testing phase.

               


Valuable input from IDEO community

- Would be useful for outdoors. One community member even shared the idea with two seniors in their 80s who provided great insights and recommendations

- Consider lighting, even using glow-in-the-dark material

- Advice on methods for securing the product to existing stairs (Adhesives)

- Could incorporate tactile markers for the visually impaired (like bumps on a sidewalk)

- Advice on stairs/interior styles and how our product should be influenced by these, rather than looking like a mobility aid

- Useful links to scientific papers on the optimum step height, the best handrail shape and size, etc.

- The product would also be useful for kids and even pets

Design Guide

We created a design guide of ‘needs’ and ‘nice-to-haves’ to help us focus our iterative development. We focused on completing the list of needs first, and found time to incorporate many of the nice-to-haves, though the last two had to be sacrificed in order to provide a safer, more consistent service.


Fabrication Methods

A lot of research was carried out into figuring out the best method of actually making the StairWear products, and a lot of experts in architecture, design and engineering were consulted. The two main options were 3D printing and CNC cutting. Michael attended a course on CNC cutting and spoke with the instructor about the project afterwards. Eventually we decided that we would use 3D printing, at least initially for the Grip Strips and StairWear Outdoor, and would likely consider CNC cutting the best option for StairWear indoor (it's important to note that CNC cutting can utilize the same logistics as 3D printing). The 3D printers will use a large nozzle for quick printing, similar to ones used for 3D printing houses. This is possible as the shape required is not very intricate.



Iterative Development

We carried out quick, iterative development with more end users, engineers, physiotherapists, interior designers and architects. This helped us refine the product design and create the website. We found that the primary user of the website is likely to be a family member or carer of the person receiving the product, rather than the user themselves. However, we decided to utilize universal design principles and tested the website UX with a number of individuals of different ages and capabilities, as we believed this would help us create a truly simple interface.


               

        

               


Iterative Development (Results)

What our iterative testing and Open IDEO contributors helped us achieve:

- A range of products under the brand name of 'StairWear' would be best. This would allow us to accommodate everyone as some people will not have space to add on to each step, but would like the added benefit of grip and improved visibility.

- Incorporating glow-in-the-dark material should be an option for customers who would like extra visibility at night. Using LEDs or a light source being developed by other teams in this challenge would be really great in the future, but outside of our scope for this short challenge.

- The product will have to be screwed/bolted to existing stairs on each step and must not cause a tripping hazard. We came up with a solution for this (see video of cardboard model). Also, while we really wanted non-professionals to be able to order and install the product, we were advised that a professional should take the measurements and install the final product. It adds a small amount of extra time and cost to the process, but is worth it for the added safety and accuracy of fit.

- Team member Natalie spoke with other interior designers and architects and put together a document on this (see Style Guide attached).

- Lots of research on building codes and contacted several experts in the area. While many believe it shouldn't be an issue, we put together a document outlining how these codes could potentially limit StairWear Indoor (see attachment on building codes).

Website and Physical Models

See videos above for how we built the models and website, and see SlideShow for final website. There is also an InVision link to the site here: https://invis.io/M5BX7VP9J

Future Work

We would  like to put StairWear Grip Strips into a pilot test as soon as possible (in the coming months). Once the product is proven, it could be produced in short batch production (a mix of injection molds and 3D printed inserts for increased production efficiency, while still allowing for custom sizes). We would like to simultaneously carry out tests on StairWear Outdoor, trying out different support structure designs. We would like to collaborate with experts in the area of CNC cutting and woodworking for further development and testing of StairWear Indoor. See Product Timeline attachment for further details.

Future for our Team

Michael has two years left in his PhD, with the option to take a Masters in one year instead if a project like StairWear receives more validation and support.

Louise is finishing her course in Digital Media Design and is excited to continue developing the UX for StairWear.

Natalie will be continuing her freelance design work and will be consulted with frequently as her advice on business has been invaluable to this project, along with her interior design perspective and her efforts in validating StairWear internationally.

Others have expressed interest in joining the team (Business, Engineering and Human Factors backgrounds)

We are excited to continue collaborating with the Open IDEO community who have provided brilliant ideas and invaluable motivation and support throughout the challenge.



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

We showed the idea to potential customers, their families, care-givers, construction professionals, etc. to see what they think about it. We worked with the local makerspace on the technical side of things and with a local nursing home on the customer experience type of things. We followed IDEO Method cards appropriate to our project, from scale models and paper prototypes to fly on the wall observations and 'day in the life' role plays. We discovered that there is a lot of demand for StairWear.

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

It would be fantastic if people could run the idea by potential customers, their family members, care-givers, etc. If anyone would like to 3D print a scale model to help them explain the idea to people, we can provide the CAD file to do so. We would also love to hear people's thoughts on the best route to market for a product like this? How can we get people to install this product before they need it?

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

Tell us about your work experience:

I am currently doing a PhD in New Product Development Engineering and have BSc in Product Design & Technology. I am a co-founder of a community that develops open source 3D printed prosthetics, and worked with a medical devices company. Louise is a photographer and a Digital Media Design student.

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

Stairs can cause elderly users and people with disabilities to fall, they can prevent them from going upstairs in their home, and they can often force the elderly occupants to move out. Stairwear offers a suite of custom-fit products that attach onto existing stairs/steps and provide: - more space on each step - better grip - improved visibility

How does your idea demonstrate our Criteria of Affordability?

The only existing solution to overcoming stairs is a stairlift. These are time and cost intensive to install and maintain (upwards of $15,000 for good ones). Stairwear is a cloud-based platform that utilizes an on-demand supply chain. By tapping into existing networks of manufacturers, delivery and construction services, rather than building new factories, storing product, etc., we can vastly reduce typical production costs and provide more affordable products - average purchase estimate: $350

How does your idea demonstrate or plan to demonstrate scalability?

Stairwear utilizes an on-demand supply chain network. No product is kept in storage, rather they are produced on-demand to each user's specification (number of stairs, extra space needed, etc.). This allows for a much less risky business venture, which can be rolled out in one area and can easily scale up by means of decentralized manufacturing (tapping into existing networks of 3D printers, CNC cutters, delivery and construction services and material suppliers).

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

On-going testing with all parties that would be affected by this product service system: - End users - Construction services - Delivery services - Digital fabrication services - Material suppliers - Health Insurance companies - Local authorities

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

To recruit team members that balance out the skill set of our team. We currently have skills in product design, new product development, 3D printing and UX design. We need people in engineering, business and healthcare, and are already consulting with suitable and interested candidates.

78 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of Teo John
Team

Hi Michael,

Congrats for being selected as one of the top ideas.

With admiration,

John Teo

Photo of mitch Lee
Team

A great insight and solution to a very real issue.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Congrats on your Top Idea Michael and team!
Bettina

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Congratulations Michael on your Top Idea!

Robert

Photo of An Old Friend
Team

Hi Michael

Great idea, I'm really looking forward to see where this is going in the future! :)

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Thanks Alex, so are we! We'll keep you updated :)

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael and team,

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 Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Kate, will do, and thanks again for all your helpful comments and feedback throughout.

As StairWear offers a range of custom-fit products, it really falls into both categories. The Grip Strips could go for a pilot run almost immediately, and 3D printing networks like 3D Hubs already exist, so even the logistics are not a big thing to set up. StairWear Outdoor would ideally go for a pilot within a year, following further material testing, so I would put them in the 'Most Viable category. Meanwhile, StairWear Indoor is more of a mid-to-long-term goal (like 2-3 years before a pilot and 5 years before being up and running), so this would be in the 'Most Promising category.

For both awards:
The prize money would help to fund materials and testing, and would allow us to get the Grip Strips into a pilot study almost immediately. The product could initially be produced by one CAD engineer (Michael is capable of this), and once a successful design has been proven we would begin to automate the process and tap into existing networks of printers, etc. We would simultaneously test StairWear Outdoor, and the funding would help us rent larger printers to test this.

Assuming that the AARP Mentorship could be done online, this would be extremely useful for helping us to develop ways to get the product to those who need it most and to integrate it seamlessly into their lives.

The research study with the iCare Research Panel would be hugely beneficial in helping us to develop the perfect system for those who are most likely to be ordering these products (as found from our research) - carers and family members of older adults. It would help us validate our proposed system for ordering the product (requesting a specialist to take measurements, gaining a permit, and customizing the StairWear product to the needs and wants of the end user).

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

This looks fantastic and the grip strips are awesome - much better than anything I could have envisioned and serve multiple purposes. I think the glow in the dark material is probably a better solution than LEDs anyway. Great work!

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Thanks Gina, you're one of the key people that inspired us to go for a suite of products, starting with the grip strips, so it's great to hear you approve of them! :)

Photo of Aiman Hijaz
Team

Cool , keep up the good work !

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael,

We’re impressed! Over 60 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 Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael and team,

It is great to see the tremendous amount of progress on this idea. I want to highlight it to Joanna Spoth and Shane Zhao 

I noted these two questions in your idea post:

'We would also love to hear people's thoughts on the best route to market for a product like this?
How can this idea be offered to people before they install a stair lift or move downstairs?'

I wonder if a supplier of mobility solutions for older adults may be able to answer the first and second question i.e. supplier of stair lifts, canes etc. I wonder if it worth getting in contact with these companies - ttps://www.springchicken.co.uk http://www.ageukmobility.co.uk/ https://abbeymobility.com/ (Ireland-based)

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

Perhaps marketing to physical therapy offices by giving them free samples would make sense. If you can show that people are actually safer when using the stairs or strips, a good physical therapist would want to recommend it. If they're using it for their actual stairs (which they should since they likely have a lot of people with mobility issues) that would be a built-in advertisement for anyone who comes in.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Kate, thank you for the links, they will definitely be useful! I'm just putting together a few renders of how the product would look once produced, and this should help companies understand the product a bit better when I email them :)

Thanks Gina, that's a really good idea and I love the thought of built-in advertising. Will try to chat to a few more occupational therapists to get their thoughts on promoting such a product. We also got to print a glow-in-the-dark grip strip and try it out (see our update above). It worked really well (even though it was sitting in the darkness of my bag all day, rather than charging), so we will print more and leave them sitting on the stairs all day and then see how bright they are night. Thanks again for the great suggestion, it is very likely that we will incorporate it into the final product(s).

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

That's fantastic! look forward to seeing them when they've had a chance to charge. I kinda want to get them now for my steps outside :) Good luck with everything!

Photo of Joanna Spoth
Team

Fantastic work Michael O'Sullivan !!!

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

At the risk of posting too much, another possible market would be real estate agents or people looking to buy a house. I actually know someone who didn't buy a house she and her husband really wanted because the stairs were too steep, and she was concerned about it being a challenge for her stair-shy dog and any potential future babies. If she knew of an economically reasonable way she could have bought that house, she may have done it.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Gina!

There's no such thing as posting too much, we appreciate all the ideas and feedback people have :)

That idea of affecting real estate is really interesting and something the team had never discussed. Thank you so much for that insight! Some of our research and testing did show interest in making stairs safer for kids, and so it's great that you got similar findings. Pets are also something we had not discussed, so thank you for that also, it's definitely a big market and would be awesome if we could tap into it.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Just to echo what Michael has mentioned, Gina please continue posting. You bring a lot of insight into this challenge and mention things that I had not thought of.

Photo of Shijie Lu
Team

Hello Michael,

Fantastic idea, it is great to help older people by using StairWear. Your idea could help many older people, I think it will be work. However, as you and your team knew that the appearance of StairWear is the challenge for outside or inside. Is their possible for the customer to design their appearance of StairWear. It can increase selling if it can work because more and more people like customizing. In addition, the cost of the StairWear is also a challenge although it cheaper than stairlift.Maybe can use the renting business model to reduce the customers’ cost. If want to do this, it should build the StairWear into small pieces that could suitable for every stair and could be assembled like LEGO. That could help more people. Is this possible?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Shijie,

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement! From our research and testing, it does not seem possible to design a one-size-fits-all solution, as each stairs has different dimensions, different shapes, surfaces, etc. However, our 3D print solution can be quite easily melted down and used to produce another StairWear. I know this doesn't really allow for a rental system, but it does make the product even more environmentally friendly, and the product is already only a fraction of the cost of existing alternatives.

As for customization, the customer would be able to choose:
- Material color
- Material effect (wood grain effect, metal effect, etc.)
- Grip strip color
- Grip strip groove design (various grip designs and patterns)

I hope that helps to answer your question :)

Photo of Shijie Lu
Team

Thanks for quick reply. It answers my question. I agree that people will like to utilize such environmentally friendly materials and happy to choose their favorable style of the stairs. Hope your team has a good result and better start-up. Good Luck!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael and team,

It is great to see how you have incorporated feedback from the OpenIDEO community into the development of your idea.

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. This is 5 pm in Ireland.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Kate!

We should have a lot of updates coming in the next few days. We are bringing more scale models and photo-realistic renders to a local nursing home tomorrow to help refine the final design of the physical product and to begin work on the product website. We are also putting the finishing touches on our business model pitch, so that should fit in nicely with what you are recommending.

Thanks for all the advice and feedback, will see you on the refinement call.

Michael and team.

Photo of Michael DF
Team

Hi Michael,
I love that you are thinking outside the box and brining a product with flexibility to suit each individual home/measurement. A custom solution based on the amount of space will take advantage of any extra space the owner has to play with. I agree using colours to help differentiate the size of the step is a fantastic and very useful idea. Just looking at a set of stairs may be very daunting to elderly people but if the stars are colour coded and identifiable then this may reduce their anxiety or fear of going up or down the stairs.
I was thinking that perhaps it could be a good idea to add a distress alarm button at some point in the design, just incase there is a fall the elderly person could press the distress alarm to signal for help?

Michael DF
15 May 15, 2017

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the kind words and for reinforcing our beliefs about the design! We really believe that the ability to provide a product custom fit to each individual's needs is key, as there are just so many different styles and shape of stairs. Like you stated, the ideal scenario is that users would have some space to play with, but we also believe that some customers may opt to add, say, 2 inches onto each step , even if restricts access to a room, as this is likely a better trade-off than cutting off the entire upstairs. This is the worst-case scenario, but still better than being forced to live downstairs.

I like the idea of a distress alarm as a back-up, and combining a reactive product like that with a preventative product like ours would likely be the ultimate fall prevention solution. While adding a feature like this may be outside the scope of our product for now, it would be fantastic if, in the future, we could team up with one of the other teams in this challenge who are working on a similar thing, like SmartGait: A physical therapist in your pocket or The 360/365 Caregiver Monitoring Model 

Thanks again
Michael

Photo of Susan Jackewicz
Team

Hi Michael,
Congratulations on the refinement of your idea! I really like the vision of being a suite of products to help refine the experience of using stairs in the home. My idea @Changing Outlooks: Bannister Balance is still in a sketch stage, but your progress brings a "what if" to mind.....Given the diversity of stair rails found in homes, I wonder if your 3D printing idea could be as applied as well to making stair rails fatter, more consistent in shape, with better grip properties? Aside from physically helping people up and down the stairs, it might enable them to feel more confident in the experience along with your amended staircases. It, too, could be shipped in sections and clipped into place.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Susan!

Yeah, we're already thinking the range of stair attachments could include:
1. Strips that provide extra grip and visibility, potentially glow in the dark or with some other capability of lighting up
2. A smaller StairWear for people who have 2 or 3 outdoor steps
3. The full-size StairWear for indoor staircases

Perhaps an improved handrail would be a nice addition here! Definitely something to consider, thank you. At the start of this challenge, Graham linked a very useful article outlining the most effective handrail design for optimum gripping: http://www.human.cornell.edu/dea/outreach/upload/Stair-Safety-2-2.pdf. It states that: Round shaped rails with a diameter of about 1.5 inches maximize grip forces for adults. While it might not be possible to reduce fatter handrails down to this size, 3D printing could probably be used to add extra grip and confidence, like you mentioned, and even a glow-in-the-dark advantage.

Thanks again and best of luck developing your idea :)

Photo of Susan Jackewicz
Team

Michael,
Maybe a cap to a pinch-grip type of rail described in the Cornell article could be produced and installed for better grip; or even a thin-layer cap for an existing round rail no matter the diameter, if the materials are such that they can be cleaned. I like the glow in the dark idea!

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

This is a great idea! I wonder if there can be an even cheaper variation for those who don't want to get their stairs fully outfitted but want to take care of the issue of differentiating stairs, particularly given the decreases in night vision as we age and the stated desire for solutions for outside. For example, you could have a (non-slippery) plastic strip that you affix to one side of the stairs and glow-in-the-dark symbols or numbers that are attached to this strip by the user at each step. If they're battery operated, it would be great if you could step on one and activate the whole strip, conserving energy when you're not using them.

Photo of Louise Sarah Clifford
Team

Hi Gina!

Really clever thinking and something we hadn't considered! I could definitely see this being part of a range of custom stair-related products produced by Stairwear, or it could even be a stepping stone for getting to where we want to be.

I imagine the biggest challenge would be in designing something that isn't likely to cause a tripping hazard by sticking out from the step, but you can actually 3D print in glow-in-the-dark plastic, so it may not even need to be battery-powered. We'll test out some prototypes of this over the next few days and let you know how it goes! Thanks again!

Louise.

Photo of Gina Cardazone
Team

Thanks for the quick reply! I'd love to see the prototypes, and agree, there could be a range of stair-related products. Agreed that making sure that a new hazard is not created is key! It looks like there is also a group here doing motion-activated light products including tape and paint, so perhaps that is also something that can be used without sticking out. Good luck!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Michael.
Congrats on moving into refinement! I really like your idea and I shared it with two seniors, both in their 80's. They both said "good idea" and actually were interested to learn more due to need. They read through the post and had some thoughts and questions. One of these potential users was particularly interested because she has a set of outdoor steps, about 4 steps, on which she does not feel particularly safe. She said they are not deep enough. She inquired about enlarging them (this is in a townhouse in a condo complex) and was told that they are "standard size" and cannot be changed. She opted to install a second handrail on those steps to improve safety.

Feedback: The idea is good where there is sufficient space.
They calculated for their inside stairs using 13.5 inch deep steps, the numbers from your post above. This would not work as there is not sufficient landing to accommodate.
(I read in comments now that the steps can be customized for specific locations.)

Questions:
How would this work regarding handrails? It seems that they would need to be extended.
How would the stairs be fixed? Can this go over carpeting?
How does this work with housing codes?
Concern: Some communities might have rules regarding exterior stairs. (We discussed this as a possible issue but one that might be worked around if the community board recognized the safety value in this intervention.)

Reading through the comments here I see some of these questions addressed. I am wondering if when you create your cardboard prototype if you make a video showing how the stair attaches, and talk through some of the questions that have come up in comments, if it might be a way to share the idea with potential users online?

Looking forward to seeing the prototype!

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Bettina!

Thank you so much for sharing the idea and getting feedback on it from real potential users. If possible, it would be fantastic to get continued feedback from you and the two seniors in question at more stages throughout the refinement stage. This would be especially useful for us as we are situated in Ireland, and so a greater understanding of how this product would work internationally would be fantastic. In return we can offer our design training and experience to helping with your project. We will leave a comment on it later today once we generate a few questions and ideas for you :)

In regard to your questions/ideas:

For the issue of 'standard sizing' and building code regulations. A nice guy named Ian commented to say that this should not be an issue, and a friend recommended that we market this as a 'rigid rug'. It merely sits on top of the steps, rather than altering their construction, and so we believe that while it could potentially be a gray area in some states/countries, it should ultimately not be a problem, especially considering the intent of the product (to reduce falls among the elderly).

The product should be suitable to the outdoors, and the extra grip should be especially useful here.

Yes, the advantage of 3D printing is that the steps can be custom to each house, making sure that there is still space for the improved steps and simultaneously fixing any pre-existing issues with incorrect angles (if an existing step is not completely horizontal, the print can fix this). The numbers we quoted above were just for the sake of an example, and it is likely that users would not need that much space or, in the worst case scenario, would still benefit by adding an inch or even half an inch to each step. This is something we will need to look into much more and it would be great to get more feedback on how much space potential users living in the US are likely to have.

Handrails are something we have not considered too much thus far as we have been focusing on supporting the weight of the user and producing these large prints, but it is an extremely important point, so thank you for reminding us. We notice other ideas that were submitted to this challenge address the area of handrails and perhaps we could take inspiration from one of these. We will also talk to some engineering and construction guys to see what they advise. Adding in space for the handrail to slot into is no problem, but supporting weight will be an interesting challenge.

The idea is that the stairs would fit over any surface (concrete, wood, carpet, etc.). If assembled like we have been testing, locking the top and bottom steps should mean that the middle steps should be secure would an adhesive or screws, etc., but the cardboard model will tell a lot here. We want the product to assemble as easily as possible and without professional skills, and also would like it to be easily removed in the case of selling the house or new people moving in. We will test out different joints as well as adhesives, and will consult with construction workers as this is not our area of expertise. Safety will not be compromised for convenience, though.

We will definitely make a video of the model, explaining where it works well and where it needs improvement and hopefully this will help others to help us.

Again, thank you so much and we hope we can benefit from each other for this challenge.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Michael. Sure! As you have updates with your project I can share and will post feedback.
I welcome any input and help you might offer for my idea. Thank you!

I imagine the variety of housing here in the US is similar to Ireland. Old, new, large, small. Some staircases have small landings so extending stairs might not be possible. Other homes will be able to accommodate. If the staircase extends with the "Stairwear" will the home owner need to build a new partial/full step, or will that piece of the "Stairwear" be solid?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Bettina

Thank you so much, I look forward to collaborating further :)

That piece of the Stairwear won't be solid, but it will be able to support more than enough weight by itself. 3D printing allows these bigger steps to be hollow, but still incorporate support structures. For example, check out the 'grid' design here that could be used inside this step, rather than making it solid: https://d2py9w124w2itd.cloudfront.net/photo/image/700x0/57a35b900bbb2/Capture.JPG

I'm currently carrying out testing to see what the best support structure is and the amount of material required to support the weight of two users.

Photo of Bettina Fliegel
Team

Hi Michael.
I checked out the designs. Interesting that it does not need to be solid. In terms of customer use if your testing shows that different grid designs are equal in terms of support it might be nice to offer a variety of designs to customers. In addition to need for a product I think people appreciate and like options when it comes to aesthetics so that might be really nice!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael,

Sorry, more questions from me.

Are you planning to get feedback on the assembly and installation of Stairwear and how easy it is to install? Will it come flatpack in small packages?

What are the options for older adults who are not able to install Stairwear themselves?

Could there an option for a ramp (thinking of the future post-challenge)?

Apologise if any of these questions are a repetition.

Photo of Louise Sarah Clifford
Team

Hey Kate!

No problem at all, we appreciate the questions :)

We have already made a cardboard model to scale to help us figure out initial issues with installation, and have also discussed it with manufacturing and construction experts, as well as an occupational therapist and two people with PhDs in designing technology for elderly users. It seems that the product may have to be installed by a professional to make it extra safe, though it will still only take an hour, which is nothing compared to installing a stairlift or building an extension onto the house. We will be posting the results of all this research and testing later today.

We picture this working like an IKEA flat pack and that the packaging will ultimately depend on whether we use 3D printed plastic or CNC cut wood. Regardless, we will do our best to minimise the amount of packaging and perhaps even make it multi-functional. We also have experience in designing assembly instructions and visuals and so this will be of benefit here.

From our research it is becoming clear that outdoor steps are also a big problem and there is likely potential to turn these into a ramp, as there is usually more space for us to play around with outdoors. It would definitely be a nice future product for StairWear, and would work on the same process as the indoor one, except it might require a slightly different material or finish for the outdoors.

Like I mentioned, later today we will be posting the results of our research and testing to date!

Louise

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael,

Welcome to refinement. I look forward to seeing how your idea progresses.

There are a few ideas from previous challenges that you may want to look at:

All generation ATM (a finalist idea from our previous financial longevity challenge) is a great example of scrappy prototyping with a video and testing sessions with feedback -
https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/top-ideas/all-generation-friendly-atm

‘Rightsize’ by @Natalie Roy(a finalist idea from our previous financial longevity challenge) has a really good example of how the idea developed and reiterated based on user research and feedback - https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/financial-longevity/top-ideas/rightsize

Photo of Ian Robert Wickham-Fontanini
Team

Purpose designed 3-D print very smart, and building codes are simply make sure you use the correct contact so these mats really can't ever slip nor slide there, being clean the stairs surface plus mat, use a primer for better contact, apply my suggestion a silicone adherent glue best for heat plus moisture connection remain longtime, and don't access the stairs though for 24 hours or leave home for a day the best plan as smell not the best also

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Ian

Thanks so much for the suggestion and the reassurance that this shouldn't be an issue with building code regulations. I will definitely try out the silicone adherent!

Photo of Ian Robert Wickham-Fontanini
Team

My pleasure Michael, something like mineral spirits or turpentine even petrol would do, as plumbers use pipe cleaner for plastic pipes then the glue added, and do think about making up a blind person stair safe aid like a sidewalk path has the raised bubbles, in they know where they are, meaning only use the raised surface for centre of stairs with the edges are simply flat, in just none slip there a better plan for them or this would help out for building codes if you ever wanted to do that. Keep Smiling and Enjoy your Day it!

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Great idea for helping the visually impaired and really easy to integrate with this product. I know a few people I can ask for advice and to test this out. Thanks again :)

Photo of eldy wullur
Team

Hi Michael,

Making the stairs safe and colorful is indeed the best and cheapest way not only for the elderly but for the whole family. Brilliant idea.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Thank you so much :)

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael!

Are there any building codes that would influence the use of your idea, especially in the US? Which building codes would Stair Safe need to comply with?

http://www.nahb.org/en/research/nahb-priorities/construction-codes-and-standards.aspx

In the future, are there other applications for 3 d printing for fall prevention in the home (that could be an expansion of this idea) to see how broad the scope could be of the 3d printing service?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Kate

I looked into this before and came to the conclusion that I will likely need to consult with a professional about it to get their opinion, but I feel that this is likely a gray area, in the same way that mobility aids and devices could arguably be considered medical devices. The product I am proposing does not directly alter the construction, rather it is merely an attachment that fits over existing construction to make stairs easier and safer to use for the elderly. I have been working on ways to allow the product to fit over existing stairs without making it a permanent fix, and I feel this is important as it can then be easily removed if the house falls under the possession of someone who does not need the safer stairs attachment. I understand your concern though and will talk to professionals in the construction and law sectors to see what they think, though I do believe it shouldn't be an issue.

As for other applications of 3D printing for fall prevention in the home, it would be awesome to see this develop into an ecosystem of products that complement each other. Even from looking at other people's contributions in this challenge I can see products that would likely benefit from 3D printing, namely StairWalker (allowing the product to attach to railings of different sizes and shapes) and Changing Outlooks: Bannister Balance (as mentioned by Susan). I do believe that there is great opportunity for using 3D printing in other areas of fall prevention, as 3D printing is especially useful for situations that require non-standard products (which is the case when dealing with elderly users who have unique homes, unique conditions, unique needs).

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Michael,

Interesting to consider if this could be expanded to turn some steps into significantly wider platforms, to act as intermediate 'pause/rest' stations, or even convert stairs to ramps. I suppose the real 'gotchas' in these are that they would push the bottom step significantly further out across the floor which could interfere with halls or other passageways.

Robert Smith , StairWalker 

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Robert

The reason for using 3D printing and parametric modelling is to combat those 'gotchas'. The size of the new steps will depend on the amount of space that the user has at the end of their stairs. If a person only has 3ft spare without interfering with other rooms or passageways, each step might be able to be made, say, 2 inches bigger, while someone with a lot more room to play with might want to add 3 inches, or add extra steps to reduce the height of each step. This will obviously take up quite a bit more space, but if they have the space for it, it's no problem to adjust the digital file and print stairs that fit their need/want.

Interesting idea about the pause/rest stay, it's something I had not considered. Thank you, I'll check out your idea too

Photo of Robert Smith
Team

Hi Michael,

Yes, sounds like you have a good handle on the issue. I only bring it up because in my house the stairs 'T' right into a hallway, so extending the steps out would interfere.

A modification you could consider would be to have wider steps but with significant 'toe kick' under each leading edge. This could allow wider steps without significantly extending the staircase as a whole. There would, however, be some risk of tripping due to the overhangs.

Lots of potential, good luck!

Robert

Photo of Laith Al-Sheikh Hassan
Team

Hi,

I wanted to jump in on this thread as I had the same question about how long the staircase can extend before running into walls, doors, or hallways.

Are the new stairs permanent? I know a senior who uses a flat brick when she visits her friends who have stairs. The brick is moved one step at a time as she climbs. Obviously a tedious and possibly hazardous maneuver. I f your stairs can be adapted to be movable and repositionable perhaps a three to four step at a time solution can be achieved for those who don't have the room to expand the stairs.

Just a thought. Overall, I agree with Robert, you seem to have a lot of this covered.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Laith

Thanks for the comment, especially that piece of info about the senior who uses a brick, that's exactly what my design is trying to overcome :)

A few people have had this question, so I'll try to explain my reasoning as best as I can. When a person needs this stairs attachment, their care giver or family member will upload a photo of the stairs area, along with measurements, to the product site. The engineer and medical practitioner will look at the measurements of the existing steps and the photo of that particular senior's house, and adjust the digital file of the stairs accordingly, before it is printed. So if someone has 12 inches of space at the end of their stairs before it would interfere with another room/passageway, the engineer will adjust the computer model of the stairs so that each step is still increased, but not to the point that it causes problems (so maybe an extra 1 inch on each step, for example). These custom stairs, designed specifically for that user and their existing stairs is then 3D printed in easy-to-assemble parts.

If another customer has more space to play with before the new stairs attachment starts to interfere with other rooms/passageways, say, 36 inches, the engineer and medical practitioner can make each step 2 inches bigger before printing the product.

The size of the steps on the new attachment will be unique to all customers. Some will have space for wider steps than others, but the extra space should still be beneficial even if it's not that much extra, and the other benefits I mentioned will also be present in all cases (improved grip and visibility).

Hope that clears things up :)

Photo of Susan Jackewicz
Team

Hi Michael, Great idea! I like the thought of using a rubber-like material for the 3D printing for grip.
Do you envision being able to also handle landings in case of a tri-level or split staircase? (Maybe just a set-width pathway would have to be printed?)

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Susan!

Landings in case of a tri-level or split staircase should actually be even easier than one singular staircase. In a singular staircase you might have 12-16 steps, which means that making each step bigger could result in adding an extra 12 inches to the overall length of the stairs, which could potentially interfere with other rooms/passageways (however the CAD file can be manipulated before printing to minimize this effect based on each individual's home). In the case of a tri-level or split stairs, there is usually about 8 steps and a large landing space, making the 3D printed stairs less likely to take up additional space :)

Photo of Luca
Team

Hi Michael,

awesome idea. Now that I'm thinking about your steps it makes a lot of sense to go into this direction. The stair lifts are definitely well established but I feel like since it is the only real solution to the issue at hand the prices are still beyond of what is reasonable.
In fact, my grandmother has her bedroom on the second floor and she has very slippery marble floor steps and because of that she often needs help to get up the stairs. She also has problems with her ankles and her doctor tells her every time that she needs to go up the stairs even if she's not going to sleep.
I really like the idea of rubber surface on the steps to make it less dangerous to slip as well.
For people who live in apartment complexes with big flights of stairs, you could maybe think about adding an extra step that is extra big. That way the users could take a break there and put the stuff they have in hands down on the step as well.
I really like the lego or tetris kind of system you chose, that makes the assembling easy.
I think your idea has great potential!
Good luck with it.

Luca

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Luca

Thanks very much for the kind feedback :) The cost of stair-lifts is definitely an issue, and I believe that the added benefit of increased mobility and exercise is possibly even more important.

Good idea about adding the extra wide step, breaking up the stairs into smaller chunks like that could really help the users. We will keep you updated on our prototyping and testing :)

Photo of Tuba Naziruddin
Team

Hi Michael,

Great idea, I love the fact how you highlighted the difference in step heights. Especially in New York City if you see the older buildings have a higher height than the ones today three inches are more than enough to trigger a fall. I work at the NYU MakerSpace, we have different kinds of 3D Printers in our space, you are more than welcome to come by and prototype.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Tuba

Thank you for your encouragement, it's much appreciated :) I think that's where the opportunity lies - people living in older houses who would like to continue living there, rather than moving because their stairs are too dangerous. Maybe current and future buildings will have better-designed stairs, but until then there is huge potential for retro-fitting with a product like this.

I'm actually based in Ireland, so it might be a while before I get to visit, but thank you! Hahaha, I have a maker space very local to me here too so prototyping shouldn't be a problem. Thank you so much though :)

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Maybe there could be some testing in the US and Ireland using 3D printed stairs from both Makerspaces.

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Yeah, that would be great actually, and if we each tried different print settings and support structure designs we would come up with a feasible design much faster.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael,

Who would own the tech - a healthcare practitioner? Do you 3D print in the home? How would you scale? Who would do the measurements?

(Apologies if any of these questions are a repetition, it is for clarity)

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Kate

The storyboard I attached should help clear some of those questions up. Essentially all that is needed is an industrial 3D printer and website, and these would be run by at least one engineer and healthcare practitioner. When they receive measurements and a photo of the house in question, they can scale the digital file of the stairs accordingly. Some people might want to make each step bigger by an inch, and to reduce the height of each step. This is possible if the photo shows that there is enough space at the end of the stairs without causing obstruction to other rooms or passageways. Once the digital file is adjusted accordingly, it is 3D printed and delivered to the customer in parts, easy for non-skilled assembly. The tech is nothing new, it already exists in CAD packages like SolidWorks, which most engineers are already familiar with.

Ideally the the measurements would be taken by the caregiver or a family member of the elderly person in question. They would also take a photo of the general space so that the engineer/healthcare practitioner could know how much space they have to work with. They could use a measuring tape or a similar app. They could also use a Spirit Level/ Bubble app to ensure that each step is horizontal and uniform. If any of the existing steps are not uniform, the digital file can be manipulated to ensure that the new steps are uniform, making them even safer.

In terms of scaling the business; this does not need to start local. The product is demand-driven and, ideally, does not require professionals to measure or install anything. An order is received online, a custom product is produced for that individual and shipped to them in parts that can be easily assembled.

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael!

Do you need to manually and measure the step? Can you use something like this - https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/easymeasure-measure-distance-with-your-camera/id349530105?mt=8 ?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Kate

That's a great idea, I hadn't considered it! It could be used in combination with a Bubble/Spirit Level app so a non-professional can accurately measure both the dimensions and angles of the steps. I'll try out several of these in my testing to see if they are accurate and easy to use, thanks :)

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael!

I am wondering what could be learnt from the likes of Ikea in terms of scaling and many of the interior design apps. What can be standardised and what needs to be customised and more bespoke?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Kate

Good idea, I've downloaded a few and have started looking through them. As for the scaling issue, I'm actually already involved in a community that prints prosthetics for kids. They simply take photos and quick measurements of their arm and we can scale the digital file accordingly to provide a perfect fit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewdC3BVUNmg&feature=youtu.be
Scaling this parametric file takes only a minute, but will likely take a few minutes more for the stairs. As for the issue of what needs to be standardised vs customized, this is likely going to be figured out during the initial interviews and testing period, but changes could be easily implemented even after the product would become commercial as the digital file can be so easily updated. Some people may want something plain and subtle, while others may want funkier styles, colors or patterns.

Photo of Sidney
Team

Possibly making the stairs more like a rubber mat? This would allow for wider usage on all types of stairs as it would fit into them due to flexibility. Just a thought. Or is your image a more solid form placed over the stairs frame?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Sidney

Thanks for your contribution, it's something I hadn't considered! My initial thoughts are that a solid form placed over the stairs might work better, as it would allow for bigger steps (e.g. increase foot space from 11 inches to, say, 13 inches). I've read a lot about how loose carpet can cause falls, and so if the rubber is not fitted exactly to each step it could cause a problem. As well as that, the rubber alone would not actually provide more space for the foot, but would definitely provide more grip. I was thinking that I could incorporate grooves into the surface of the new steps using 3D printing, but if there were a way to integrate rubber it would likely be more effective, so I'll keep it in mind. Thank you :)

Photo of Lillian J Warner
Team

Hi Michael! I love this idea and your storyboards. I like that your idea addresses structural issues and can be aesthetically appealing and hip looking too. Can't wait to hear more about your prototyping. I'm curious about how the measurement process would work for each individual staircase?

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Lillian

Thank you very much! Funnily enough, the reason I did the first storyboard was to show how simple the process would be compared to current alternatives, but as Graham pointed out, some of the existing steps may not be uniform, and so measuring one may not be enough.

I still think it may be possible for the user's family member or care giver to measure the steps, but may be more accurate if a professional came to the house to do it. When prototyping and testing I will get a number of people to measure steps and see how accurate they are and how easy they find it. I still think that, even if a professional had to come to the house to measure the steps it would still be a much more simple and cost effective solution than current solutions, but I would love if it could be as easy as it is on the storyboard.

Thanks again :)

Photo of Graham
Team

Hi Michael,

I really like your idea. Stairs are definitely a major issue for falls, and a simple remedy like yours could be a solution that can easily be rolled out and be effective.

You didn't mention it in your write-up, but you want to be sure that the height and length of each step remain exactly the same for each step. There's research that shows that even 1/4" difference in height can cause falls (page 3 - http://www.human.cornell.edu/dea/outreach/upload/Stair-Safety-2-2.pdf) Anecdotally, my mother had this happen to her. Contractors who built new stairs in her home were off by 1/2", and she fell and broke her wrist. Just wanted to be sure you had considered this in your idea.

Cheers!

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hi Graham,

Thanks for the kind words and the great advice. I didn't actually realize that such a small difference in height could be so dangerous, so the article you provided was extremely beneficial.

Coincidentally, I believe it actually works to my idea's advantage that this common human error in producing stairs can be so dangerous. As my system would create stair solutions unique to each individual's home and needs, the parametric model could be easily adjusted to fix any existing problems and ensure that all steps are uniform. This would likely require a professional to visit the house and measure each step carefully, though it would be a small price to pay for a person's safety.

I like how the article mentioned the need to consider human factors more than once. I've actually done a few modules on Human Factors, and so I will go back over some of that coursework and see if there are any other little nuggets of information.

Thanks again,
Michael.

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Congratulations on being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Michael!

Really interesting post! I like the idea of creating bespoke stairs and the use of different colors. I will get back to you if I find any existing products that are similar but none spring to mind right now.

I wonder if it is worth you including some numbers on the costs of stairlifts e.g. http://home.costhelper.com/stair-lift.html

Photo of Michael O'Sullivan
Team

Hey Kate

Thanks for the comment, I'll do that now :) I might be able to work out rough costs for the 3D print equivalent also

Photo of OpenIDEO
Team

Hi Michael!

Great to have you onboard! We noticed your post is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have it be included in the challenge. You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your post by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. We're looking forward to seeing your contribution in this challenge.