One of the first ideas that I wanted to prototype for the product design sprint was the rollable ramp. Longtime followers of the blog will recognize this idea as an iteration of something that Chris P, one of my users who participated in the co-design workshop, came up with. Chris, a New York City resident, told me about the problems facing wheelchair users in New York City, especially around food and restaurants. A ton of restaurants in the city are still not ADA compliant [a theme that I touched on earlier in the blog when talking about the service ADApt], and many feature [somewhat maddeningly] a single step up or down into their premises. The rollable ramp is meant to counteract that tendency.
This product is a ramp that rolls up [surprise, surprise] and is mounted on the back of the wheelchair. Existing portable ramps are really expensive [$800+] and are really bulky and heavy - not ideal for transport. I also dig the premise of wheelchair users taking things into their own hands and altering the environment around them because clearly bureaucracy and regulation aren't the quickest ways to get things done. Not that the ADA isn't great, but it'll be a long time before everything everywhere is accessible, and taking action on an individual level to make places more accessible is sure to be empowering for users.
The mechanism that keeps the ramp sturdy when in use is tension in the material used to hold the individual planks of the ramp together [in the case of this sketch model - a term used to describe rough prototypes, using the concept of a quick and dirty sketch in a sketchbook as a metaphor in the three dimensional world - denim] and the physical dimensions of the planks themselves. There isn't really a need for bulky components that add unnecessary weight to the product. The denim and wood were held together by staples - again this prototype was done quickly and dirtily in order to verify that the idea itself was sound. To that point, the length of the ramp isn't nearly enough to bridge the roughly eight and a half inches that the average stair rises. We were asked to refine some of our models further in another week of iteration, so I constructed the same concept out of square aluminum tubing and aircraft wire rope. As you'll see from the pictures below, the product isn't quite there yet - the square tubing adds a bit of bulk, and it's hard to imagine a huge roll-up ramp on the back of wheelchairs everywhere. I think ultimately this product would be made out of carbon fiber, making it extremely light, allowing for flexibility in terms of plank shape, but adding significant costs to the product's production.
I also haven't quite figured out how this will mount to the back of a wheelchair, nor have I figured out what the user interaction will be like. Will wheelchair users unfurl the ramp themselves? How do they collect it again? What about it getting dirty? What if there's more than one step? There is an attractive geometric element to the profile view of the rolled up ramp, and it would be cool to incorporate consideration for that aesthetic in future iterations. I'm also looking forward to testing this concept out with actual users, once thesis grant money kicks in and I have financial means to buy the materials that I want to use to prototype.