My dad is an anesthesiologist who works with Doctors Without Borders (also called Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF). After his first MSF trip to Sri Lanka, he told me that the organization was unable to supply walkers or walking aids to many of the patients who need them. This is a cost issue — walkers are too expensive for the typical patient, and MSF can’t afford to buy them in larger quantities.
During the six years my dad has been working with MSF, he’s noticed this problem in every country he’s visited, from Gaza to Syria to Haiti. MSF will buy a few walkers for the most extreme cases, but everyone else has to make do.
The solution: To design a walker cheap enough for organizations such as MSF to buy in bulk and provide to everyone in need.
My dad told me about the cheap, plastic chairs (monobloc chairs) that are in abundance everywhere he goes for MSF. These chairs cost approximately three dollars to produce and can retail for as low as five dollars, making them affordable for most. They’re not manufactured in one place and shipped around the world. They’re manufactured regionally in China, Taiwan, the U.S., Israel, Mexico, and many other places, which is why they’re one of the most globalized products on the planet. The monobloc chair and single-part injection molding became my source of inspiration for this project.
Design for the Whole World
While cost was the main concern (more on that later), other issues factored into the design. After talking with my father and other MSF doctors, I learned of the following ways current walkers fall short.
- Environment: Due to the dirt and terrain, small wheels (like the ones on available walkers) just don’t work. Currently MSF purchases walkers without wheels.
- Space Efficiency: The walkers need to stack easily for storage and shipping. The hospitals are small, and floor space is valuable.
- Shipping: Most MSF locations tend to be temporary and when they move, they need to be able to easily ship their stuff to the next site.
- Resale: People who receive equipment from MSF often end up selling it. This made me think about the walkers’ resale value. What can someone in Nigeria or Sri Lanka do to make a plastic walker salable and also to repurpose it into something else they could use?
Named after the Titan who holds up the sky, Atlas is meant to lift up the world — in this case both physically and metaphorically.
One Size for All
The average size of a person differs from country to country. The U.S. is on the larger end of the spectrum, and the majority of the rest of the world is smaller. The average height of a man can range from 5′ 2″ in Indonesia to 6’5″ in the Netherlands. Currently the average height of people in countries that MSF visits are on the shorter side. The current walker design is sized to fit the majority of people in those countries and abroad.
The handles on walkers are typically parallel to the ground, but slanting the handles allows the walker to accommodate a wider range of heights. The idea is to make different sizes: S, M, and L. The slanted handles also offer improved positioning for users’ wrists and backs by making it easier for them to hold them in line. Since polypropylene is fairly light, the approximate weight of the walker is seven pounds (which falls into the five- to eight-pound range of current walkers). These walkers would be made of glass-filled polypropylene to provide more structure and stability.
Walkers without wheels are actually preferable in the places where Atlas would be used. After working with some vendors I was able to determine the approximate cost of one walker would be seven dollars, making it the most cost-effective option to date.
Space Efficient for Storage & Shipping
Stackability allows the walkers to be easily shipped and stored in bulk inside clinics or other facilities where space is at a premium.
Make It Yours
Since cost is a limitation, extra features like seats and bags are encouraged through customization. Encouraging this type of creativity can also help them add value if/when they decide to resell the walker.
A pamphlet attached to each walker is a low cost and easy way to communicate this idea. Since these walkers will be distributed globally, the pamphlet relies on images to communicate the possibilities.
The logo alludes to Atlas, the Titan mentioned above, who holds up everyone in need. It’s also reminiscent of a pie chart.
(If you liked this post, check out the work Bresslergroup did a couple of years ago with a group of Penn IPD students who traveled to Ghana to help the Yonso Project brainstorm bamboo bike accessories and came up with solutions using kente cloth.)