Case Study

Helping Seniors "Walk and Roll"

Published: August 1, 2009

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When a Georgia company’s rolling walker couldn’t be sold in Wal-Mart stores because the box wouldn’t fit on the shelves, the company came to GTRI for help.

A group led by GTRI senior research scientist Brad Fain solved the problem. The researchers reduced the volume of the cardboard box by 51 percent, while still allowing someone with a disability to remove the walker from the box and use it without assistance. “The carton became much smaller than we thought it could get,” said Phil Willis, president of the durable medical division for Alpharetta-based Access Product Marketing (APM). “We were very impressed with the way GTRI researchers aggressively and professionally attacked the problem.”

According to Fain, finding a new way of folding the walker to fit inside a smaller box was an engineering challenge. GTRI also kept the cost low with the changes, allowing APM to sell the rolling walker at discount chain Wal-Mart. GTRI’s assistance was instrumental in helping APM market its Hugo® rolling walker to seniors around the country.

When APM took the next step in elderly mobility devices from rolling walker to cane, it wasn’t a surprise that the company returned to GTRI for assistance. This time APM asked Fain and his team to design a sturdy folding cane from scratch.

GTRI research technologist Tedd Toler and Michelle Berryman of local design company Echo Visualization joined Fain to work on the project. Since many older persons perceive folding canes to be weak and unsafe, they designed the new cane with a tip that could bear heavy loads and be highly resistive to slipping.

“We chose a dome-shaped design with a convex interior surface so that it deforms to the floor and maintains more surface area with the floor as more pressure is put on it,” explained Fain.

The Hugo folding cane was successfully tested with 550 pounds of weight applied, while competitors broke at around 250 pounds, according to Willis. The canes are currently sold in Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and Costco warehouse stores.

Once the basic structure of the cane shaft was designed, Fain’s team moved its attention to the handle. Cane users feel a handle is the most personal part of the cane, according to Willis. For this reason, the Hugo folding cane was designed with a removable handle so that each user’s personality could be on display.

The personalized handle feature came to the attention of the producers of the FOX television show House, M.D. The main character, Dr. Gregory House, used a Hugo folding cane with a customized handle in more than eight episodes last season.