Self-Leveling WalkerA stair-capable walker for greater accessibility
A walker suitable for use on stairs, developed by the Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Administration Medical Center and Nottingham Spirk, was recognized at a recent VA summit on innovations that could improve the lives of veterans.
Rehabilitation professionals and biomedical engineers at the APT Center developed the first feasibility prototype, then secured patents and a grant to partner with NS for further refinement. While the original prototype functioned well during preliminary tests, it used battery powered solenoids to open and close the hydraulic valving needed to allow the legs to that adjusted the legs for climbing or descending stairs. This presented some potential challenges. The battery added weight, and the possibility of power loss added a safety risk. In addition, the battery itself made the walker a Class II medical device, meaning there would be more hurdles to clear to obtain FDA approval.
The Nottingham Spirk team set to work on a design that would not only eliminate the need for a battery, but also repackage all components into a streamlined, professionally engineered product capable of holding up to the demands of a medical walker. Through the development of specialized hydraulic valving, Nottingham Spirk achieved a mechanical/hydraulic system that is easily activated with a single finger, while eliminating all electrical components. Looking ahead to eventual commercialization of the product, Nottingham Spirk is already working with hydraulic component manufacturers to ensure a speedy entry into production at minimal costs.
At the VA Innovation Demo Day in Washington, D.C. in August 2017, the walker was voted an audience favorite out of the more than 90 projects in its section. Prototypes will be tested in a clinical setting at the Stokes Center. Ron Triolo of the APT Center is seeking grants for further testing and refinement.
“Nottingham Spirk has been an energetic, creative and thoroughly professional partner on this project,” Triolo says. “They shared our passion for the technology and our vision for generating a new device suitable for clinical testing and eventual commercialization.”
In addition to offering greater mobility for millions of users, a stair-capable walker could allow patients to leave the hospital much sooner, without the need to make costly accessibility upgrades to their homes.