What do a camera and a mobility assisting device have in common? Ask Garrett Brown.
Brown, the inventor of the Steadicam (and a Philly Tech Week 2019 speaker) has officially launched his latest invention, the Zeen. The mobility invention aims to blend aspects of a wheelchair and a walker to help folks with mobility challenges get around more seamlessly.
Brown was inspired to invent the Zeen nearly a decade ago, after watching his father struggle with mobility issues while dealing with a health problem back in 2013. Brown said he saw his father and his father’s friends using walkers, and was not impressed by the design of them.
After his dad passed away later that year, Brown said he started to think more about mobility, and in 2015, began working with some partners to help bring his idea to life. In 2018, they had built a prototype and presented it at a convention, and soon the team received investments from rehabilitation companies. The company experienced some interruptions when the pandemic hit in 2020, but the work on Zeen continued, and the product officially launched at the end of March this year.
Brown describes the Zeen as “a chair that gets up and goes” and said the device does the lifting to help its user stand and move, which is helpful to those who have trouble standing up from a chair. He said this type of device is valuable for people who are on the edge of being able to safely or comfortably walk because of declining health, disability or injury.
“It’s a great way to get around and that’s the money,” he said. “It’s a safe, comfortable way to walk around as partly supported if you like by the saddle, so people that have balance issues or are prone to falls or get tired really easily are comfortable.”
The Zeen has an aluminum frame and there are release levers on the armrests that allow it to be set at any height. The user can push themselves up with their arms or legs, but the device also has controls in its armrests that release pins and allow spring force to help lift the user up. Brown said the Zeen can support 90% of a person’s weight when standing up.
The Zeen has to be fit to each individual person’s size and weight and can be customized with controls on just one side, if the user only has use of one hand. The Zeen allows users to do tasks in front of them like get dressed or do chores, and it allows users to reach up high or down low with the same device. The device was built to be lightweight so users can easily travel with it, the founder said.
Brown said the company has run through its first 100 parts order and is currently in the position to fill more orders. From that first set of orders, he said the feedback has been good — one user has even taken the Zeen on an eight-week cross country road trip and has been autonomous with help from the Zeen.
Brown said the geriatric community is a large part of his customer base, but the majority of his customers have been disabled people. While elderly people can sometimes be adverse to change, many people in the disabled community are looking for devices to improve their quality of life, he said. Devices like the Zeen are important because people’s state of mind tends to be improved when they’re at face level, Brown said.
“A wheelchair is a one-way ticket to not walking and being upright, and walking is on its own really valuable for people,” he said. “It’s hugely important for your physical health and your mental health. To be up at the altitude of sociable human beings is great, rather than sitting in a chair and looking up.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.