Patent application title: Walker Having Automatically Activated Protective Dynamic Padding
Sydney A. Warren (Marina Del Ray, CA, US)
IPC8 Class: AA45B300FI
Class name: Tent, canopy, umbrella, or cane canes, sticks, crutches, and walking aids combined and convertible
Publication date: 2009-10-01
Patent application number: 20090242006
Patent application title: Walker Having Automatically Activated Protective Dynamic Padding
Sydney A. Warren
ALBERT W. WATKINS
Origin: ST. JOSEPH, MN US
IPC8 Class: AA45B300FI
Patent application number: 20090242006
A walking aid (100, 200) has been configured with static padding (112) and
air bags (114) to protect the user in case of a fall. The air bags (114)
are generally not deployed. However, the walking aid has a tilt sensor
(128) which, when a fall is detected, triggers air bag ignitors (116). In
one embodiment, the tilt sensor (128) may comprise one or an array of
sensors, and may further be coupled through microprocessor control to a
dynamic active suspension (102) that controls both the height of the
walker and the height of individual legs such that the walker will land
softly, while adjusting individual leg heights where necessary or
appropriate to stabilize the user to reduce the chance of a fall. In
addition to providing more extensive protection for the user, the walking
aid has several additional options which increase the comfort and
convenience it offers. Such options can include locking hinges (120),
allowing the walking aid to fold up; rubber (124) on the end of the legs
where they contact the ground; wheels (126) on the legs; brakes for the
wheels; height adjustable legs (102, 122); a water bottle holder; a
basket; a removable or folding seat; a dashboard (140) including various
communications devices such as cellular telephones, emergency call
buttons, locators, and the like; and audio-video devices.
1. A walker having automatically activated protective cushions which
improves the quality of life and longevity of a person in spite of at
least one limitation that interferes with unassisted walking,
comprising:vertical legs coupled with a plurality of side and front bars
to form a walking aid;dynamic padding coupled to and supported by said
walking aid and defining a region protected by said dynamic padding;means
for detecting a fall; andmeans to deploy said dynamic padding responsive
to said means for detecting a fall, to thereby cushion a person within
said protected region in the event of a fall.
2. The walker of claim 1, wherein said means to enable deployment of dynamic padding further comprises a means for detecting the presence of an individual within said protected region.
3. The walker of claim 2, wherein said means for detecting the presence of an individual within said protected region further comprises an electrical switch.
4. The walker of claim 2, wherein said means for detecting the presence of an individual within said protected region further comprises a proximity detector.
5. The walker of claim 1, wherein said means for detecting a fall further comprises at least one tilt detector.
6. The walker of claim 1, wherein said walking aid encompasses at least three vertical surfaces, and has at least one open vertical surface through which said person will pass into and out from said protected region, and said dynamic padding deploys to close said at least one open vertical surface and thereby enclose said person within said protected region.
7. The walker of claim 1, further comprising a bi-directional motive apparatus which provides assistance in moving said walker over a surface.
8. The walker of claim 7, wherein said bi-directional motive apparatus further comprises at least one wheel adjacent a bottom termination of said vertical legs, at least one motor coupled to said at least one wheel operative to drive said at least one wheel, and at least one brake coupled to at least one wheel operative to prevent movement of said at least one wheel.
9. The walker of claim 1, further comprising at least one joystick operative to control at least one of said at least one wheel, at least one motor, and at least one brake.
10. The walker of claim 1, wherein a height of said vertical legs is adjustable responsive to a magnitude of load upon said vertical legs.
11. The walker of claim 10, wherein said height of said vertical legs is further adjusted responsive to said means for detecting a fall, to reduce tilt that might otherwise be associated with a fall.
12. The walker of claim 1, further comprising a communications device.
13. The walker of claim 12, further comprising a means for measuring a human medical parameter.
14. The walker of claim 13, wherein said means for measuring a human medical parameter further comprises a heart rate and blood pressure monitor.
15. A method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person in spite of at least one limitation that interferes with unassisted walking, comprising the steps of:providing a walking aid suitable for structurally supporting said person and having dynamic padding defining a protected region;enabling said dynamic padding to be deployed during use and disabling said dynamic padding when not in use;detecting a fall of at least one of said person and said walking aid; anddeploying said dynamic padding responsive to said detecting step.
16. The method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person of claim 15, further comprising the step of at least partially encompassing said person by providing dynamic padding that is opposed upon deployment by similar dynamic padding.
17. The method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person of claim 15, wherein said step of enabling said dynamic padding to be deployed during use and disabling said dynamic padding when not in use further comprises the step of sensing said person within said protected region.
18. The method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person of claim 17, wherein said step of sensing said person within said protected region further comprises the step of monitoring the state of a manually activated switch.
19. The method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person of claim 15, further comprising the step of propelling said walker by a motive power source separate and distinct from but under the control of said person.
20. A walker, comprising:two vertical rear legs, two vertical front legs, and a plurality of side and front bars to form a three sided, unshaped walking aid;dynamic padding adjacent to each of said two vertical rear legs and a front bar defining a protected region;a means for detecting a fall;a means for detecting the presence of an individual within said protected region;said dynamic padding deployed when said means for detecting a fall detects a fall and said means for detecting the presence of an individual within said protected region detects the presence of an individual within said protected region, whereby said dynamic padding cushions said individual in the event of a fall;a means to adjust a height of at least one of said two vertical rear legs and two vertical front legs responsive to a magnitude of compressive load applied thereupon, and to further adjust said height responsive to said means for detecting a fall, to reduce tilt that might otherwise undesirably lead to a fall;a communications device;a heart rate monitor; anda blood pressure monitor.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention pertains generally to walking aids that improve the mobility of those who otherwise have difficulty safely walking, regardless of whether the difficulty arises due to age or other physical limitation. More particularly, the present invention pertains to a walking aid combined with means to protect the user in the event of a fall. In one preferred embodiment, the invention is, in combination, a walker, a plurality of strategically located static and dynamic cushioning devices, and a tilt sensor for automatically deploying the dynamic cushioning devices.
2. Description of the Related Art
Throughout history the average life expectancy of a human has increased dramatically, in direct correlation with the improvements made in the medical field. People whose lives would have been cut short by a disease, debilitating injury or infection are now able to live longer and more fruitful lives. A common goal of innovators in the medical field is to increase life expectancy while improving the quality of life.
As the average age and total population has increased, so have the number of people with walking difficulties, whether from age-related disorders, an injury, or some other cause. These people often have restricted mobility and may be forced to depend upon others to assist them throughout the day, even for ordinary and mundane tasks that once were taken for granted. Sometimes assistance is welcomed, but for private and personal tasks such as making a trip to the bathroom or simply crossing a room, having to request assistance from another person and then waiting for help can lead to a very detrimental loss of pride and self-respect. Not only does this dependence on assistance directly restrict the individual's independence and freedom, thereby lowering the overall quality of life, it also necessitates finding quality help, which may be difficult and undesirably expensive.
To maintain quality of life in spite of physical limitation that interferes with unassisted walking, numerous forms of walking aids have been developed, from walking sticks and canes to walkers. While particularly useful in age-related walking disorders when difficulties first arise, walking sticks and canes provide minimal assistance and are primarily limited in benefit to those situations where an individual requires additional balance or only nominal load support, such as when one leg is slightly weak. When an individual loses significant strength or coordination in one or both of their legs, the minimal assistance provided by a walking stick or cane would no longer be enough to enable mobility. Walkers, on the other hand, provide support and additional balance on both sides of an individual, as well as in front. Such a setup allows an individual to lean heavily upon the walker when required, which is especially useful when an individual has either more limited strength or compromised leg coordination.
In the prior art, numerous features and modifications have been proposed for walkers, including various ways to make a walker more convenient, comfortable and safe. An exemplary U.S. Pat. No. 4,312,505 to Engelhart, entitled "Invalid's Wheeled Walker", the contents which are incorporated herein by reference, discloses a folding wheeled walker. The wheels are front casters that allow the walker to be moved about and directed with ease. For those times when the walker will preferably be held stationary, a brake system is provided. In addition, the walker has padded hand grips and a padded rest for the forearms for comfort, and a safety belt in case the user should collapse or faint. However, in case of a fall during use of the walker, Engelhart's design leaves the user at risk of hitting the edges of the walker and potentially the ground. Furthermore, the safety belt undesirably introduces a risk of bruising and even bone breakage or other damage where it contacts the user. U.S. Pat. No. 5,476,432 to Dickens, the teachings which are also incorporated herein by reference, illustrates another means of protecting the user in case of fainting or collapsing. When in use, the walker encircles the user and has a strap between the legs to fully support the user. However, as with Engelhart, in case of a fall where the walker tips as well, the user is unprotected, and more likely to do damage due to the extra safety measures. In both Engelhart and Dickens, the added safety features also add difficulty and inconvenience.
Additional patents disclose the use of padding on walkers for comfort. U.S. Pat. No. 4,510,956 to King, entitled "Walking Aid, Particularly for Handicapped Persons" and incorporated herein by reference, provides padding along the top bars, where one would normally grasp. While improving the comfort of grasping the bars, King's walker provides no provision for falling. Instead this device is intended only for illustrating the use of padding along the upper bars. Another U.S. Pat. Des. 340,210 to Veness, entitled "Inflatable Infant Walker", the contents which are incorporated herein by reference, illustrates inflatable padding in use with walkers. Intended for use by infants, Veness has no provision for entering and exiting the walker except for being lifted in and out. Rather than being designed for safety, this patent is intended only for illustrating an alternative method of fabricating a low-cost walker suitable for use by an infant.
Other artisans have illustrated features for improving a walker, the teachings which are additionally incorporated herein by reference, including U.S. Pat. No. 5,353,824 to Woods et al., showing a folding walker with a bifold, collapsible seat; U.S. Pat. No. 5,605,169 to Light, illustrating a folding walker with a retractable seat; U.S. Pat. No. 6,371,142 to Battison, disclosing a walker with a flip-out seat; U.S. Pat. No. 5,904,168 to Alulyan, which demonstrates a walker with a roll-out seat; U.S. Pat. No. 4,907,839 to Rose et al., which shows a walker with a folding seat; U.S. Pat. No. 4,452,484 to Pastor, illustrating a walker with backrest and a removable tray and seat; and U.S. Pat. No. 4,345,790 to Coe, disclosing a walker with a detachable seat.
Absent from the prior art is any consideration for ways to automatically improve the safety of a walker, without detrimental side effects to either safety or convenience. As should be apparent, straps and similar devices adversely affect both safety and convenience.
In the more general field of personal safety, a large number of artisans have contemplated various personal protection devices that are also intended to reduce the risk of harm to an individual. Exemplary of these, and incorporated herein by reference for the irrelevant teachings, are U.S. Pat. No. 3,921,944 by Morrison, entitled "Inflatable safety pack"; U.S. Pat. No. 4,059,852 by Crane, entitled "Inflatable suit for cyclists"; U.S. Pat. No. 4,637,074 by Taheri, entitled "Protective garment"; U.S. Pat. No. 4,825,469 by Kincheloe, entitled "Motorcycle safety apparel"; U.S. Pat. No. 4,977,623 by Demarco, entitled "User wearable inflatable garment"; U.S. Pat. No. 5,402,535 by Green, entitled "Restraining inflatable neck guard"; U.S. Pat. No. 5,500,952 by Keyes, entitled "Hip inflatable protection device"; U.S. Pat. No. 5,746,442 by Hoyaukin, entitled "Safety apparel"; U.S. Pat. No. 5,867,842 by Pinsley et al, entitled "Protective inflatable vest"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,012,162 by Bullat, entitled "High impact absorbing body armor with self actuating mode"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,032,299 by Welsh, entitled "Jacket for reducing spinal and compression injuries associated with a fall from a moving vehicle"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,088,841 by Pozzer, entitled "Pneumatic protection device of great dimensions to be worn by the user with a vocal control"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,433,691 by Hilliard et al, entitled "Personal collision warning and protection system"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,543,054 by Gabriel, entitled "Bodily-injury protective clothing and accessories for outdoors and in a vehicle"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,828,697 by Mattes, entitled "Device for protecting a pedestrian"; U.S. Pat. No. 6,920,647 by Ulert et al, entitled "Hip protector"; and U.S. Pat. No. 6,951,033 by Dainese, entitled "Multi parts protective garment for motorbikers". These patents describe a multitude of garments and devices that may be donned which will help to protect an individual against traumas from accidental falls and violent impacts. Some of these garments are automatically actuated, while others require human intervention. In spite of the substantial improvement in safety afforded by these devices, they have seen little use and application. Unfortunately, the desirable freedom, independence and quality of life referred to herein above are each sacrificed by the need to don these special garments. When an otherwise healthy and mobile individual feels encumbered and inconvenienced by such garments sufficiently to be unwilling to wear them, one can only imagine that a person of limited mobility would find these even more difficult to put on and remove, and would simply refuse to consider such options. Such has been the fate of these otherwise beneficial innovations. Consequently, a better way of improving the quality of life and longevity of persons with limited mobility, excessive frailty and the like is needed.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
In a first manifestation, the invention is a walker having automatically activated protective cushions which improves the quality of life and longevity of a person in spite of at least one limitation that interferes with unassisted walking. The walker has vertical legs coupled with a plurality of side and front bars to form a walking aid. Dynamic padding is coupled to and supported by the walking aid and further defines a region protected by the dynamic padding. A means is provided for detecting a fall, and a means is provided to deploy the dynamic padding responsive to the fall detecting means, to thereby cushion a person within said protected region against a fall.
In a second manifestation, the invention is a method of improving the quality of life and longevity of a person in spite of at least one limitation that interferes with unassisted walking. According to the method, a walking aid is provided that is suitable for structurally supporting the person and that has dynamic padding defining a protected region. The dynamic padding is enabled to be deployed during use and disabled when not in use. When a fall of either or both of the person and walking aid is detected, the dynamic padding is deployed.
In a third manifestation, the invention is a walker having two vertical rear legs, two vertical front legs, and a plurality of side and front bars to form a three sided, unshaped walking aid. Dynamic padding is mounted adjacent to each of the two vertical rear legs and a front bar, thereby defining a protected region. A means is provided for detecting a fall, as is a means for detecting the presence of an individual within the protected region. The dynamic padding is deployed when the means for detecting a fall detects a fall and the means for detecting the presence of an individual within the protected region detects the presence of an individual within the protected region, whereby the dynamic padding cushions the individual in the event of a fall.
OBJECTS OF THE INVENTION
Exemplary embodiments of the present invention solve inadequacies of the prior art by providing a walker having automatic safety features which protect an individual from harm that might occur from many types of otherwise dangerous falls. In addition, the walker is comfortable, convenient, and safe.
A first object of the invention is to provide a walking aid that improves quality of life, longevity and independence. A second object of the invention is to allow an individual to use a walking aid unaccompanied and with reduced risk of sustaining serious injury. Another object of the present invention is to create a walking aid that is both comfortable and convenient to use. A further object of the invention is to present the user with a durable walking aid that works for as many situations as reasonably possible. An additional object of the invention is to allow the incorporation of beneficial propulsion assistance. Yet another object of the present invention is to incorporate all of the aforementioned benefits into one walking aid.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
The foregoing and other objects, advantages, and novel features of the present invention can be understood and appreciated by reference to the following detailed description of the invention, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 illustrates a preferred embodiment walker designed in accord with the teachings of the invention, having automatically activated protective cushions illustrated in a deployed state, from projected plan view.
FIG. 2 illustrates the preferred embodiment walker of FIG. 1 from top plan view.
FIG. 3 illustrates the preferred embodiment walker of FIG. 1 from rear view.
FIG. 4 illustrates an alternative preferred embodiment walker designed in accord with the teachings of the invention, having automatically activated protective cushions illustrated in a deployed state, from side plan view.
FIG. 5 illustrates a further alternative preferred embodiment walker designed in accord with the teachings of the invention, and having automatically activated protective cushions illustrated in a non-deployed state, from rear view.
FIG. 6 illustrates another alternative embodiment walker designed in accord with the teachings of the invention, in combination with a person in a sideways-fall-and-ground-impact position, illustrating the deployment of additional dynamic cushioning.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
Manifested in the preferred embodiment, the present invention provides a walker 100, composed of four vertical legs 102 which are connected to each other via a plurality of sidebars 104, 110 and front bars 106, 108 to form a three sided, u-shaped walking aid. For the purposes of this application, the open side of the unshaped walker 100 will be referred to as the back or rear, and the opposing side the front. To use walker 100, a person walks into the middle of the "u", entering through the rear. Facing the front, the user grasps any of the side or front bars 104, 106, 108, 110, though most persons would grasp the uppermost bars 104 or 106. Once the person has a firm grasp of walker 100, they may then begin to walk, relying upon walker 100 for additional security and support, and for taking breaks between steps to slide or move walker 100 forward.
As illustrated in FIGS. 1 through 3, walker 100 has several additional features for the convenience, comfort, and safety of the user. First, walker 100 has static padding 112 wrapped around vertical legs 102, side bars 104, 110, and front bars 106, 108. For the purposes of the present disclosure, static padding will be understood to include any type of padding having a first predetermined dimension when no forces are applied thereto, and which is substantially compressible when compressive forces are applied. Examples include a wide variety of foamed elastomeric materials such as rubbers, polyurethane and the like, various air bubbles and bladders and other suitable materials such as are incorporated herein above by reference in the many teachings of various padding materials. Static padding 112 allows for a more comfortable grip when using walker 100. Furthermore, static padding 112 decreases the amount of damage inflicted if someone accidentally bumps into or scrapes against walker 100, whether or not during use.
Static padding 112 provides improved comfort and may also provide improved grasping and the like. However, in order for static padding 112 to serve as a significant safety feature, it must be quite large. This is because, from the fundamentals of physics, Ft=m(v1-v0), where F=force, m=mass, and v1-v0 is the change in velocity. In order to break a fall for a given person, the person will reach a final velocity which is zero, and will reach a peak falling speedjust before impact which is independent of the padding or cushioning, and may therefore also be considered to be a constant for a given person. Finally, the person's mass will also be a constant. Consequently, the above equation may simply be rewritten as Ft=c, where c is a constant dependent upon the size and mass of the particular person falling. In order to best cushion the person then, increasing the amount of time decreases the force that must be applied to bring the person to a stop. For static padding, to increase the time requires making the padding much larger and bulkier. Excessively large and bulky padding renders the walker inconvenient, and will often still limit the walker in application to a person of appropriate size or dimension for the particular pad. Said another way, padding necessary for a man approaching seven feet in height is going to completely obscure the vision of a four foot tall woman. As a result, reliance upon static padding would not only undesirably add bulk, but would also necessitate the manufacture and stocking of a plurality of sizes of walkers for individuals of different sizes and weights.
In order to overcome the limitations of static padding, walker 100 has dynamic padding 114 attached to both rear legs 102 and top front bar 106. Dynamic padding 114 is most preferably self-deploying if walker 100 tips over. As illustrated in FIGS. 1-4 and 6, dynamic padding 114 is shown in a deployed state, while FIG. 5 illustrates dynamic padding 114 in the non-deployed or stowed state where it preferably visually resembles static padding 112. In the preferred embodiment, dynamic padding 114 is comprised of air bags, most preferably cushioning the fall in much the same manner as air bags in a motor vehicle, though preferably somewhat more gently. In the case of this dynamic padding, a great deal of padding bulk may be produced nearly instantaneously through rapid generation or release of gas into the bag. With the substantially greater bulk at the time of deployment, the amount of time available to stop the person is greatly increased, thereby substantially decreasing the forces required to break the fall safely and without harm to the person.
Most preferably, activation of dynamic padding 114 requires careful control and timing. More particularly, dynamic padding 114 should only be deployed when two conditions are met. The first is that walker 100 is, in fact, falling. The fall may be detected in several ways, including through acceleration detectors or through the use of tilt sensors. In the preferred embodiment, front bar 106 contains a tilt sensor 128 for detecting if and when walker 100 tips over. Most preferably, the minimum angle necessary to activate tilt sensor 128 is sufficiently large to ensure that ordinary manipulation, which will result in various angular disturbances, does not falsely activate tilt sensor 128. Otherwise, accidental inflation could actually knock down a person who was not, in fact, falling. Since most preferred dynamic padding 114 may be deployed in a few milliseconds, this angle of tilt can be quite large. Other means for detecting the fall are known both in the prior art and from the documents incorporated herein above, and so are contemplated herein.
The second condition that should be met prior to deploying dynamic padding 114 is the presence of an individual within the protected region of walker 100. By "protected region", it will be understood that walker 100 may be designed to form a protective cushion around some limited region. This region may be somewhat smaller or even somewhat larger than walker 100, but may nevertheless be reasonably defined and identified at the time of design of walker 100. In the event that walker 100 were to be accidentally knocked over, it would be undesirable to deploy dynamic padding 114. Consequently, suitable means to detect the presence of an individual within this protected region is desirable. A number of automatic or manual means are contemplated herein, though upon review of the present disclosure it will be apparent to those reasonably skilled that many other means may be used. Nevertheless, for exemplary purposes, manual switches may be employed that arm or enable the deployment of dynamic padding 114. Alternatively, more automatic means such as grip or pressure sensors may be used that detect a person grasping, touching or holding on to walker 100. In the case of a grip or pressure sensor, it will be understood that there will need to be a memory or delay built in, such that even if a person were to let go of walker 100, the circuitry would recognize for some limited time that the person would still reasonably be in the protected area. Another automated means for detection would incorporate one or more optical, ultrasonic or similar detectors that are capable of detecting an object within the protected area. In the case of an optical detection scheme, an array of photo-emitters and photo-detectors would ordinarily be combined, and breakage of one or more of the beams would indicate the presence of an object or person within the protected area. Ultrasonic detectors which precisely measure short distances are also known, for exemplary purposes being employed in the beverage industry to precisely control the filling of soft drinks into cups. Such types of detectors are contemplated herein for detecting the presence of a person within the protected area, and the sensitivity of these detectors is sufficient to enable distinguishing a person within the protected area from a person walking past or adjacent to walker 100.
Once both conditions are met, and it is therefore determined that walker 100 is, in fact, tipping over, tilt sensor 128 has wires 118 which are used to trigger deployment of activate air bag ignitors 116, in the case ignitors are used. The location of the wires is illustrated in the figures, though separate wiring is not shown. This is because the wires 118 are preferably either enclosed or embedded, though in some cases they may also be surface mounted or restrained. Where ignitors are preferred, it is also preferable to provide for ready and rapid replacement of ignitors 116. As noted herein above, other methods of deployment may be used such as valve activation and release of stored highly expandable gas, such as pressure-liquified compounds or pressurized gas. Independent of method of deployment, either repackaging or ready replacement of dynamic padding 114 is also desirable, such that walker 100 may be readily prepared for reuse after deployment. For exemplary purposes only, and not limited thereto, dynamic padding 114 may be designed for manual refolding and storage, may include a vacuum system to retract an air bag back into holder, or may be replaced with a factory-assembled unit. In the case of the factory-assembled replacement unit, deployed dynamic padding 114 may preferably be returned to the factory for appropriate recycling, which may include repackaging, rebuilding or materials recycling, the extent as required or appropriate, prior to the units being returned for use in walker 100. In such cases, it may be necessary or desirable to store spare dynamic padding units with walker 100.
As demonstrated by the diversity of quantity and location of dynamic padding 114 shown in the Figures, the geometry as well as location of dynamic padding 114 may vary widely. Dynamic padding 114 may vary from that shown in the illustrations, both prior to and subsequent to deployment, the arrangement and selection of which will be made by a designer to meet a given set of objectives. For exemplary purposes, dynamic padding 114 adjacent the open end of walker 100 may be designed to deploy in such a way as to completely enclose the open end, and may even overlap adjacent the open end. In this manner, a person would be protected, even when walker 100 tips over towards the backward side. As an added benefit, enclosing the person within opposed air bags, where air bags are selected to implement dynamic padding 114, helps to ensure that the air bags do not inadvertently propel an individual undesirably. Said another way, with proper design the air bags may be designed to surround the person in a cushion of air, thereby avoiding the person being pushed from the air bag onto another obstacle, or sliding from the air bag undesirably onto another hazard. By "opposed", it will be understood herein and for the purposes of the present disclosure that the air bags do not have to be located or even open in geometrically opposite directions, but rather that these bags will tend to surround or encompass an individual, rather than leave them exposed or propel them undesirably in any direction.
As demonstrated by FIG. 6, dynamic padding 114 may be provided not only in the interior protected space of the walker, but may also form a protective space by deploying exterior to the framework when desired. Illustrating this are two external side bags 114'. These bags are designed to deploy well beyond upper bars 104, 106, to protect a person from shoulder, hand, arm or head contact with ground and obstacles during a fall. By providing dynamic padding 114' exterior to the walker 100 framework, a person may safely grasp and cling to static padding 112 about rails 104 even during a fall, without interference with or possible injury from a deploying air bag. Said another way, a person using walker 100 will be grasping static padding 112 or rails 104. In the event they fall, it will be a natural reaction for many people to grasp the rails and static padding even tighter. Were dynamic padding 114 to be used, which emanates from inside the framework, it would not be possible to blow the padding any significant distance beyond rails 104 without risking applying potentially harmful forces to the person's hand and arm, which would be in the way. Rather than be so limited, the exterior dynamic padding 114' would pass by the person's hand without harm.
Dynamic padding 114, as has already been aforementioned, is not limited in size or shape or even in deployment, so long as the desired and intended protection is safely achieved. Dynamic padding 114'' illustrates this, by showing a much larger air bag than was presented in FIG. 1. This larger dynamic padding 114'' provides protection to the user's face and chest from harmful impact in the event of a forward fall. While the shape is illustrated as being relatively thin in each of the figures, it will be recognized that this is to best preserve the volume of protected interior space within walker 100. Where exterior dynamic padding 114' is used, there is no such restriction. Consequently, dynamic padding 114' may not only assume the illustrated shape, but may for exemplary purposes form a shape resembling that of a hemisphere, with the flat side preferably facing the person. With careful design of the geometry of the air bag, the forces and cushioning time described herein above may be optimized to provide the best possible protection for a person.
Where different geometries or combinations of air bags are contemplated, it is also contemplated herein to provide special mechanical "keying" or other means to assure that only the correct air bags may be installed at a particular location within walker 100.
Variations in deployment, for exemplary purposes only, and not limited thereto, include selective activation and deployment of bags, depending upon the angle or direction of tilt or type of fall. Electronic circuitry or other suitable means may be employed to select which dynamic padding 114 (including 114' and 114'') to deploy, depending upon anticipated need for cushioning or padding. For exemplary purposes, a forward tilting fall could trigger dynamic padding deployment from the front and sides, but not at the back or bottom of walker 100. Similarly a backwards tilting fall could trigger dynamic padding deployment from the back and sides, but not the front. In the even the dynamic padding is appropriately shaped, a fall corresponding to a landing on a side of the walker might even only trigger a single dynamic pad to be activated. This would be appropriate where the padding could be shaped to be expected to reliably surround or hold the person without the person being bounced therefrom or sliding off of the padding.
While a number of variations have already been discussed, the deployment of dynamic padding 114 may in certain instances be controlled in other ways beyond those already discussed. For exemplary purposes, control circuitry is contemplated which could deploy dynamic padding 114 in the event that a person released both hands from walker 100 without first de-activating the deployment circuitry. In such case, the conditions for activation might include optical or tilt detection of the person within the protected area, such that a fainting or otherwise collapsing person could also be protected through the deployment of dynamic padding 114. In this case, additional dynamic padding 114 might also desirably be provided adjacent the ground, such that a person simply dropping generally straight down could also be cushioned. As should be recognized, the flexibility of geometry, placement and control of dynamic padding 114 permits walker 100 to be designed for and tailored to a wide variety of needs through simple replacement of a few specific components, while still preserving the vast majority of structure of walker 100.
Walker 100 can also incorporate several existing options which increase convenience, including the option of having a folding or removable seat, providing users with the option of taking breaks anytime, anywhere, whether to rest, or to socialize with friends. The user can sit and socialize when seeing an acquaintance, reducing the chances of fatigue and/or collapsing. Additionally, items including, but not limited to, water bottle holders and baskets can be attached to the front of walker 100, enabling the user to carry additional items while both hands are grasping walker 100.
Furthermore, while having rubber ends 124 on legs 102 is beneficial because they prevent any unintentional slipping of walker 100 while in use, those with less strength or coordination may find the alternative embodiment walker 200 shown in FIG. 4 beneficial. In this embodiment, the front two legs 102 of walker 200 have wheels 126 at the bottom terminations, increasing the maneuverability of walker 200. When wheels 126 are used, brakes can be added to allow the user to roll the walker forward between steps, without walker 200 slipping away from them when they are not intending to move.
An additional method of improving maneuverability is also contemplated in FIG. 5, consisting of small joysticks 150 on both arms 104. In the preferred embodiment, joysticks 150 will control bi-directional motorized wheels 126 which will operate separately for further ease, especially when turning corners. Where motorized wheels are provided, controls may also be provided to remotely move and guide walker 200, such that a person could bring the walker to them rather than having to move to the walker. Also shown in this figure is a dashboard 140, covered in a soft foam. Dashboard 140 would preferably still have air bag capacity, with an air bag port 144 being located on the dashboard 140. Dashboard 140 would also have several additional options, including, but not limited thereto, various communications devices such as cellular telephones, emergency call buttons, locators, and the like; displays, and, where appropriate, sensors for human medical parameters; audio-video devices; storage pockets and holders; and other accessories. The inclusion of wheels eliminates the need to raise and lower walker 200 during movement, which would otherwise be required to move walker 100 about. Consequently, additional weight that may be required for dashboard 140 and these accessories and options is permissible with walker 200, as weight is less important. Where a drive motor is provided in combination with the wheels, the drive motor will provide the necessary motive power to support even heavier objects, without unduly burdening the user.
For the purposes of the present disclosure, communications devices will be interpreted broadly, and in their simplest form could include such devices as bells and audible horns. Such devices would be fully adequate for signaling an emergency or need for assistance in a typical hospital or nursing home setting. However, walkers are used in many other places, and help may not always be within audible range. Consequently, it is desirable to additionally or alternatively incorporate more modern electronic technology. Most preferably, a cellular telecommunications system will be provided. Modern cellular telecommunications systems may be used not only for placing and receiving telephone calls, but also for obtaining emergency assistance such as through the On-Star and like systems, for position and location detection for both wanderers and theft prevention such as provided with On-Star and Lojack systems, and also for remote medical monitoring. With regard to remote medical monitoring, walkers are inherently for the purpose of enhancing mobility, which in turn enhances both health and well-being. However, excessive exertion or irregular medical parameters which could lead to harm can be used to trigger communications with a health provider or facility. Most preferably, these human medical parameters will also be displayed directly upon dashboard 140 through a diagnostics panel. These human medical parameters may be any parameters that may be monitored, and include for exemplary purposes such parameters as heart rate and blood pressure. A myriad of other parameters may be monitored today, and it is contemplated herein that these parameters may be displayed and also may be communicated through suitable communications device to a remote location.
Dashboard 140 may additionally include additional devices such as audio-video devices including but not limited to mp3, DVD and television players, and may also be provided with compartments, drawers, holders or the like for any suitable accessories, including but not limited to any of the aforementioned devices and also such things as personal items, beverage containers, towels, or any other of a myriad of accessories too numerous to list herein. As may be apparent, the various electronic devices may be independent from each other or may be under common control of a microprocessor, computer or similar device.
Additionally, walker 100, 200 may preferably be configured to fold up, making storage and transportation much more convenient. In order to fold up, the sides of walker 100 pivot inward using folding hinges 120, best visible in FIG. 1 and which connect front bars 106, 108 to vertical legs 102. With the sides of walker 100 rotated, walker 100 lays flat and can fit easily in a closet, behind a couch, in a trunk, or any other convenient and appropriate location.
The height of legs 102 of walker 100, 200 may also preferably be adjustable. Each leg 102 has a height adjustment knob 122 which, when loosened, allow for the adjustment of legs 102. Such adjustment is desirable for accommodating individuals of diverse height and posture. When the height of legs 102 is deemed appropriate, height adjustment knobs 122 can be tightened, preventing the vertical movement of legs 102. Using the height adjustment feature of walker 100, 200, the walker can also fit even more easily into small spaces.
Both ease of use and safety may be further enhanced through the inclusion of a dynamic active suspension. In this embodiment, preferably implemented into a walker such as walker 200 illustrated in FIG. 5, though not limited thereto and certainly applicable to walker 100, a microprocessor and other electronics may be provided to serve a multitude of beneficial purposes, some of which have already been described herein above. In addition to any other microprocessor applications, a microprocessor may further be used to translate output from tilt sensor 128, which may comprise one or an array of sensors, into control of a dynamic active suspension that controls both the height of the walker and the height of individual legs such that the walker will land softly, while adjusting individual leg heights where necessary or appropriate to stabilize the user to reduce the chance of a fall. More specifically, rather than using height adjustment knobs 122 to set the height of legs 102, this height adjustment may be implemented under microprocessor control. Only for exemplary enablement purposes and not limited thereto, where pressurized or liquified gas is used to activate dynamic padding 114, this same pressure source may be used through valve control to control pneumatic cylinders provided within legs 102, which in turn individually control the height of one or more of legs 102. This pressure regulation can readily be provided through microprocessor control to set a desired height for each leg at any given instance. With some combination of pressure and length feedback to the microprocessor, walker 100, 200 may then be set to a first "static" height, which would be the target height for ordinary use, similar to the leg height which would be selected through the use of height adjustment knobs 122. However, as load is removed from a leg, the leg may be permitted to extend a small distance before pneumatic pressure is sufficiently reduced to prevent further extension. Then, when load is reapplied, there is also a small distance of retraction available to cushion both walker 100, 200 and a user. The cushioning described so far could be implemented very simply and solely using ordinary mechanical springs or other similar devices, which are contemplated herein. However, in the event the person were to undesirably fall to one side, these mechanical springs would not provide any stabilization, and would instead cause walker 100, 200 to "roll" in the direction of the fall, in effect contributing to the likelihood of the person falling. Instead of relying solely on mechanical springs, and continuing for exemplary purposes, then tilt sensor 128, whether an individual sensor or array, would detect the tilt to one side. If the person were falling to the left, then pressure in the left legs 102 could be increased to maintain length or even extend these left legs. In contrast, the pressure on the right legs 102 could be decreased, again to maintain length or even decrease the length of these right legs. So, during ordinary balanced walking, legs 102 would simply extend and retract similar to the effect produced by a simple spring. However, in the event excessive tilt in any direction is detected, legs 102 can be controlled through microprocessor control to reduce the chance of either walker 100, 200 or the user falling over.
While it is conceivable to use leg length detection as a form of tilt detection, this is not desirable, and tilt and leg length detection should be separately detected. This is because of the nature of use of a walker. More particularly, a person will often times lift the walker completely off of the ground. If at this moment, the person were to lose balance and fall, leg length detection might not adequately anticipate the fall. However, a true tilt detector would be useful to recognize the fall.
From these figures and the foregoing description, several additional features and options become more apparent or may be better described. First of all, walker 100, 200 may be manufactured from a variety of materials, including metals, metal alloys, resins and plastics, ceramics or cementitious materials, or other suitable materials or even combinations or composites. The specific materials used may vary, though special benefits are attainable if several important factors are taken into consideration. Firstly, the walker 100, 200 should be sufficiently light to enable even a relatively frail user to move it. For lighter materials, this is of less consequence, but the difficulty holding and adjusting walker 100, 200 increases greatly with denser, heavier materials. Nevertheless, walker 100, 200 should also be sufficiently strong to safely support a larger and heavier person, even when such a person stumbles and places great force directly onto walker 100, 200. It is at these moments that walker 100, 200 is performing the intended function of providing safe transport.
In many instances it is also preferable that walker 100, 200 remain in place while a user is taking a step. Consequently, as was already mentioned, legs 102 can have either rubber ends 124 or wheels 126 with brakes. In this way, the walker 100, 200 will remain in place, decreasing the risk of falling. Where microprocessor control is provided, drive control may be provided through the sensing of forces forward or backward instead of or in addition to joystick 150. Such drive control has previously been provided in appliances, such as in Kirby vacuum cleaners, the teachings of which are incorporated herein by reference. However, with microprocessor control, suitable logic may be provided in combination with the sensing of a person within the protected area such that a person falling in some direction would not be permitted to accidentally engage either wheels 126 or joystick 150 in a continuing drive in that same direction.
Most preferably, walker 100, 200 will also be weather resistant and sufficiently durable to withstand the particular climate for the intended application, including any temperature extremes and resistance to rust in the case of precipitation. Additionally, static padding 112, alternative wraps or manufacture from a suitable poor thermal conductor may be highly desirable to avoid undesirable exposure of a person to temperature extremes. For example, where walker 100, 200 is fabricated from aluminum or alloys thereof for weight and strength, in some climates walker 100, 200 may be extremely cold or hot, and the aluminum or alloy will readily provide thermal conduction, which in turn could undesirably harm a person. By providing suitable static padding 112, thermal conductivity can be lowered sufficiently to avoid undesirable harm. Alternatively, many polymer materials or composites may also provide adequate strength and much lower thermal conductivity.
While the foregoing details what is felt to be the preferred embodiment of the invention, no material limitations to the scope of the claimed invention are intended. Further, features and design alternatives that would be obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art are considered to be incorporated herein. The scope of the invention is set forth and particularly described in the claims hereinbelow.
Patent applications in class Combined and convertible
Patent applications in all subclasses Combined and convertible