From the Eindhoven-based MicroLab, a facility where various types of companies can work to realise their ideas, the Rombout Frieling Lab is busy working on the VertiWalk concept. The system, which is designed with elderly and disabled in mind, enables users to ‘walk’ up to the next floor with only a fraction of the effort which is required to climb stairs.
High-rise buildings and urbanisation are the main sources of inspiration for Frieling: “The densification of a city is a very sustainable idea from an urban planning point. However, people are designed to live on large plains, we are not made to climb up against walls like geckos,” Frieling explains. “How do we deal with the increasing amount of vertical construction and the ever-growing group of people who are no longer able to climb the stairs?”, was his main dilemma during the design process. “Of course, we have devised solutions for this (e.g, elevators, stairlifts, etc.), but the vision that I myself use to design a lot is that we also have to take into account what the human body is already capable of”, the designer continues.
“People are designed to live on large plains, we are not made to climb up against walls like geckos”
Obviously, this philosophy is reflected in the concept. “With the VertiWalk system, you almost swing between a seating surface and a footplate. By doing so, you use far less energy and you are automatically balanced”, says Frieling. By sitting on the seat and letting the feet rest on the footplate, users of the system can ‘walk’ up. Because the user pulls himself up a little bit using two vertical rails, the seat is pulled up by a smart mechanism. When the user sits down again, he or she can raise the footrest by lifting the legs slightly. By repeating these steps a number of times, the user can reach another floor with little physical effort. Going back downstairs is even easier; after pulling a handle, the user slowly sinks to the ground floor. Frieling: “Even for people who really can’t get up the stairs anymore, the use of the VertiWalk turns out to be incredibly easy and successful – and it’s amazing how enthusiastic the medical sector seems about the concept and the fact that the elderly keep moving like this”.
Frieling is contacted daily by people who think of the system as a solution for their own living situation and has thus built up a list of thousands of interested individuals. Currently, he and his team are looking for partners who can help in the realisation of the concept in a product. As a pilot project, the designers built a VertiWalk system for Jannie from Eindhoven, who is diagnosed with MS and can no longer climb or descend the stairs. During Dutch Design Week, she opened her house for four guided tours, which were also joined by Frieling himself.