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.
Rob: This is an intriguing concept--early detection and alerts about potential hazards. But your presentation here on OpenIDEO and on your website does not give enough specifics about the sensors and the data analysis to convince me that you can actually pull it off. The judges of this Challenge might also be dubious unless you provide more details. I have heard several care managers and occupational therapists advise older people with mild physical impairments to do the following to minimize the risk of falls: 1) Exercise regularly; 2) Install grab bars in the bathroom and use them when getting in/out of the bath/shower and on/off the toilet; 3) Have more night-lighting on paths traversed in middle of the night than sufficient during younger years; 4) If you need a walker, use it everywhere except where you can steady yourself with grab bars; 5) Tighten up or replace rickety chairs and stools; 6) Stow away throw rugs; 7) Don't leave stuff on the floor where you might trip on it; 8) Limit alcohol consumption to a two ounces per day per 100 pounds of body weight, and sip it slowly while consuming food. To that list, I would add don't turn around quickly, avoid low blood pressure, and don't use stairs in the middle of the night. Can your system monitor several of these? The fact that accommodations have been made for some of these things, doesn't mean that they are retained. I have watched couples agree to have their throw rugs and rickety furniture stored away, only to have them a later retrieve and replace them. If you can make the system work at a cost that is affordable to many, I can see it becoming a breakthrough in fall avoidance. That is because one of the major causes of falls by older people is their denial of slowly lost strength, balance, and visual accuity, but often are in denial of that, and your system could provide them with objective early warning feedback that supplements observations of family members and physicians. So I hope that you use the Refinement period to provide more details about how your system would work.
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.