Imagine being an engineer on a team assigned to build a mid-wheel-drive power base capable of complex seating functions, including standing. Heady stuff, right?
Now imagine arriving at one of the first meetings, your mind already filled with ideas and possibilities. And imagine being told that one of the new Permobil M Corpus VS power chair’s highest priorities would be redesigning the knee support.
Knowing the Need
Audra Watt, Permobil’s VP of Marketing, set the stage: “The vocalized need from the majority and the minority was a standing system, but on a Group 3 mid-wheel base — that was the need,” she remembered. “They were like, ‘You’ve got the F5 VS. We buy into standing as a seating function, but people want something mid-wheel. It’s easier to maneuver, they’re used to it, and it needs to be at a different funding code that’s easier to justify.”
“That’s the high-level need. We could have just put our Corpus VS on a base and called it a day. But we did a lot of stakeholder-need analysis, and we found out one of the biggest pain points had nothing to do with the base at all. It was actually the knee block.”
Watt explained the concerns with Permobil’s current knee block, that its single-post design was heavy and bulky, that it could be uncomfortable for some people, especially those with asymmetrical lower extremities. “You’ve got a single-post design, so it’s not as flexible,” she said. “So even though we set out to do a standing base project, we ended up adding this knee block. We said, ‘Can we solve this need through a really innovative approach?’”
Little Details Mean a Lot
Enter Dan Debrah, VP of R&D, who was honest in recalling his first reaction. “In the beginning of those discussions, I was one of the people that asked, ‘We have this chair that we need to make that is literally going to be one of the most complex things. Why are we talking about the knee block?’ That was my question. I’ll just be honest. ‘Wait, you mean that little thing over there that we never pay attention to? Why am I being called into a meeting to talk about that?’”
But Debrah said the team was determined not to dismiss “the little things that are going to be a huge deal. That’s the first place it started. We did not self-select out of that. That knee block also needed to be addressed because that was going to have a big impact on the outcome that we want when we talk about being able to get people to stand in this type of a chair.”
Getting A Fresh Start
The M Corpus VS team was also determined not to take been-there-done-that shortcuts. “Another trap that we can fall into is, ‘We have [a standing function], we know how it works,’” Debrah noted. “‘We can always just develop another one just like that.’
“But we’re forcing ourselves to take a step back and understand not so much what is wrong with or what’s not good enough with the existing knee block, but truly, what is the experience that the user needs here? And in many ways, we did end up going back to the drawing board versus just making a revision to what we had before. We were almost forcing ourselves to say, ‘Now that we understand the needs, let’s not constrain or bias ourselves with what we’ve done before. Let’s really figure out what are the options to meet these needs.’ And that’s how that knee block was developed. It was developed almost as though we’ve never developed a knee block before, because we just forced ourselves to think about ‘What exactly does this thing need to be?’”
The result is a knee support with a release mechanism compatible with a wide range of hand functionality. There’s a seat rail-mounted “parking spot” so the knee block can be stored conveniently on the chair when not in use, and the integrated BOA Fit System can fine-tune the fit for each user.
Permobil’s decision to design a new knee block was validated by clinician and ATP feedback when the M Corpus VS was shown at April’s International Seating Symposium in Pittsburgh.
It also affirmed that innovation is defined in many ways, not all of them as flashy or exciting as a new power base.
“At the end of the day, when you hear all the buzzwords about innovation, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that it’s the new whizbang that the next Einstein engineered in their basement,” Debrah said. “It’s just an innovative way to solve a problem that’s always been there. That is innovation. Doing something very different than anybody else has done, that truly is innovation. And at the end of the day, we feel like this is how we get a much better product for our end users.”
This story originally appeared in Mobility Management’s eBook digital edition. To subscribe, visit the newsletter subscription page. Subscribing to the eMobility newsletter also subscribes you to future eBook digital editions.