My father is an amateur inventor. It may have been his fascination with inventions that lead me to become a mechanical engineer. Sometimes my dad and I would have these “brainstorming sessions”, where he could spew out so many ideas that it was impossible to keep up. His dream was that he would invent something and I could develop it into a commercial success. As my dad was getting older he could see more and more often the need for various elderly care products and mobility aids, for example hip-protecting airbags, or an adult version of a “baby walker” to name just a few. But as is so often the case with inventions, the good ones are already patented, we couldn’t see the market potential, or was just plain too large a project for us to handle. “You need something to make your cane come back up to you if you drop it,” he said. “What about attaching a magnet to a cane so you can pick it up with your belt buckle?” It seemed like the least interesting of his many ideas at the time. Not very high tech, probably already patented, and a rather niched market. I told him “it would never work”. But the conversation stuck with me for a long time.
Finally in 2015 I joined Maker Hub in Västerås, Sweden. There, people get together weekly to use the wood-working shop and 3D printers to build gadgets and to socialize. I couldn’t decide what project to start tinkering with, and spent the first few months on a pedal which could lift up your cane like stepping on a garden rake. But then I met a bright kid there named Lucas. Lucas burst my bubble when he asked “How anyone with a leg injury or balance issues could possibly step on a pedal to lift their cane?” He was right, of course. It was time to move on. I mentioned my father’s idea to him, which still seemed absurd to me, but Lucas thought it was brilliant. “They make very strong magnets these days, you know. Have you seen Neodymium? Here let me show you!” He pulled out a couple rare-earth magnets from his backpack (who carries rare-earth magnets around in their back-pack?) and we super-glued them to my pedal and it worked! It also worked using a keychain attached to a long lanyard (a whole lot more practical than removing your belt). Now I had a project to work on!
Fast-forward another 2 years of 3D printing prototype after prototype and with a slight shift in focus from canes to crutches and we have crutchgecko. Basically it’s a magnetic fastener, augmented by small bumps which look a lot like Lego bricks. The magnets hold the crutches together but the bumps “magnify” the forces. (for a full list of features, click here).