CRT Technology Showcase

Aquila's SofTech: It's What's Inside that Counts

Aquila SofTech cushionToday’s consumer products — from smartphones to GPS — have raised the bar not only for function, but also for convenience. A huge array of TV channels is not enough; we also want to decide when and how we watch.

Complex rehab technology, of course, is bound by different goals and clinical realities. Yet consumers — and the ATPs and clinicians they work with — carry expectations from a more straightforward retail realm, where consumers expect and often can have the best of both worlds.

Enter the new SofTech cushion from Aquila Corp., a product that bends the boundaries of what you might expect from high-end custom seating for your most at-risk wheelchair clients.

Familiar Functionality

If you know Aquila’s Airpulse PK2 (APK2) wheelchair seat cushion, many of SofTech’s functions will be familiar. The APK2’s main goal, and SofTech’s as well, is to keep wheelchair users active in their chairs even if they have a history of skin breakdown — and even if they have current pressure ulcers. Aquila accomplishes that by offloading weight from the injured area, while simultaneously inflating and deflating alternating air bladders inside the cushion.

As with the APK2, President Steve Kohlman says Aquila custom fabricates its new SofTech cushion.

“We do the same hand built customization as with the APK2,” he says. “Any shape can be built, and we can make any size [of] internal air bladders. We use a variety of foam densities to build the framework, and we have the ability to offload full time under an existing pressure ulcer. That’s the whole key, to offload and stimulate the circulation around the entire area of the posterior except for where that sore is: You want to offload it all the time.”

And like the APK2, SofTech can be built in sizes from pediatric through bariatric. “There are no limitations,” Kohlman says, recalling a client who accustomed to sitting on a certain sofa. “We made a cushion for her that replaced one of the sofa sections — 32" wide by 24" deep.”

Raising the Bar for Convenience

Why introduce SofTech? Because it eliminates the external control module. SofTech’s electronic components, including batteries and pump, are entirely contained within the cushion.

“I’ve been trying to figure out a way to eliminate that second Aquila’s SofTech: It’s What’s Inside that Counts component because it’s a little bit bulky,” Kohlman says. “It adds several pounds to the chair, and you’ve got to have a place to mount it. It can be difficult reaching the controller to turn it off and on, and to check settings. I thought, There’s got to be a way to incorporate those components into the cushion.” Kohlman says users can’t feel the components when they sit on the SofTech.

There are more improvements as well.

“We have a feature called a moisture control unit,” Kohlman says. “It’s an electric fan that in the past had been attached to the front of the cushion. It would send a high volume of air across the upper surface of the cushion through air channels. What we’ve done is eliminated the separate external fan. It’s now embedded inside the cushion as well.”

Of the fan itself, Kohlman adds, “It’s smaller, lighter, more powerful and quieter than the previous version. It comes on automatically every time the pump turns on to inflate either of the two groups of air bladders of the cushion.”

Despite the internalization, SofTech is surprisingly lightweight — about 5 lbs. for an 18x18" cushion — and easy to maintain. It comes with a remote control for operating the cushion.

“The battery run time is 40-plus hours on a charge,” Kohlman says. “There is a receptacle on the remote for conveniently charging the battery, and there is an indicator light to show the status of the battery. The client sits on the cushion, presses the power switch on the remote, and the green indicator light on the remote tells them the battery is fine. The light changes color as the battery voltage drops.”

Thanks to a quick-charge feature, a fully depleted battery will take on enough juice in about 20 minutes to get its user through most of the next day. Consumers who get into the habit of charging their batteries every night won’t have to deal with low battery issues at all.

In keeping with the theme of consumer choice, the SofTech comes with a four-way-stretch anti-microbial cover, or an incontinence version that’s anti-microbial and anti-odor.

Ever the inventor, Kohlman is working on another SofTech option — an audible reminder to turn the SofTech off when the client transfers off. Consumers, after all, expect constant evolution, even from proven products. As can be seen from the SofTech’s added benefits, that evolution is a very good thing for wheelchair users and their seating & mobility teams.

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 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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