Editor's Note

Making Friends & Influencing Outcomes

As big a fan as I am of this industry, it’s interesting to occasionally step back and see seating & mobility the way others do. How does this world of pressure relief, propulsion efficiency and HCPCS codes look to someone who doesn’t know tilt from recline?

New Discoveries — our column reporting on research, outcome measures, and emerging technologies — takes a look at a partnership between Stealth Products and Trident Research. Stealth, of course, is known for its seating & positioning components, many of them highly customized. Trident Research is a military defense contractor specializing in test instrumentation… as in “Laurie, I’ll be with you as soon as I'm off my conference call with the Navy." (That really happened as I was lining up an interview with Trident Research President Mike Cardoza.)

At March’s International Seating Symposium, Gabe Romero, Stealth’s director of sales& marketing, introduced me to Andy Adamez, senior software engineer for Trident Research. The two companies, based near each other in Burnet and Austin, Texas, respectively, have collaborated on a new head array called the I-Drive (see page 26). I-Drive has a “smart switch” design that can be set up to basically anticipate a wheelchair user’s commands. That ability to anticipate, and prepare accordingly, can result in a smoother overall driving experience.

What's most amazing about this partnership is how immediately accepting Trident was when Gabe pitched his idea. The two companies had worked together before, when Adamez was seeking machining assistance from Stealth. That worked out so well that Trident staffers pondered returning the favor. But Gabe still had to sell Trident on his idea for a new head array. And he was brutally honest about the realm they’d have to work within.

Head array users would have severe difficulties with muscle control and strength, he said. They’d fatigue easily, have tremors, have severe muscle tone. Their conditions might worsen.

Other companies might have run away. Trident staff ers barely blinked.

“We’re used to dealing with military customers who say, ‘We’ve got to figure out a way to measure the humidity on Mars’ kinds of things,” Andy explains. “We get these requirements, and sometimes they are off the wall, and we have to scratch our heads for awhile.”

So when Gabe made his pitch, Andy says, “I don’t think there was any doubt in our minds that we could make a device that would work.”

But there’s more than just confidence behind that sentiment. Mike Cardoza explains, “In work we do with the Navy, we're sitting across the table from Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications. Our guys don't know the answer of ‘It can't be done.’ We want to be able to solve those challenging problems that other companies or other agencies might not be able to solve. Everything we've done pretty much has been a unique, one-of-a-kind solution for our customers. We can step in and provide a high-quality product without it costing the Navy a fortune.”

Customized solutions? Could Trident Research be the equivalent of complex rehab in the parallel universe of military defense?

After working with Stealth on the I-Drive, Trident staffers were hooked. Gabe says engineers are asking when the next collaboration will happen. That attitude is echoed by their president, who says he created Trident after years of working under a Navy research lab and wanting more.

“I wanted to be able to look back at an engineering career,” Mike notes, “and say we did something that had an impact on service to our country or people’s lives, made their lives easier or better. It isn’t that the work we do isn’t appreciated, but it doesn’t touch people personally.”

Gabe suggests other companies look outside the industry for partnerships “to improve what we have.” In other parallel universes, are there companies yearning to help our universe’s kids and adults? What a wonderful possibility that would be.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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