I met Elaine Levin years ago at Medtrade. She was working on a concept for a walker, she said, one that didn't look or act anything like traditional walkers on the market.
Elaine has multiple sclerosis, and she was looking toward her future, she said. She didn't want to be confined to the straight and level paths of the world. She was searching for what she called her “dream walker,” a “partner” that would help her explore wherever she wanted and walk on whatever surface. And she wanted it to have some style.
Since she couldn't find what she was envisioning, Elaine had decided to create such a piece of equipment herself. She began with the idea of adding suspension and moved on from there. She spent months obtaining patents. She teamed up with IdeaMagik designer Robert Porter, who is also a pilot, to get her ideas into prototype.
The result of their efforts — what the duo calls an “all-terrain walker” christened the Podna Rover — performs just the way she had imagined, Elaine tells me. She can go over uneven ground, travel off the path in the park and walk on gravel. The prototype has shock-absorbing wheels and disc brakes, and its nose wheel was designed with a trailing link suspension that Porter took from the aviation industry “to smooth the ride.”
A pivot feature in the center keeps the shoulders in a level position, helping the user stay upright, while the device itself conforms to the terrain. Hand protection avoids scraped knuckles. There's a seat and a cargo net to carry goodies. “As you put more weight in it, that helps lower the center of gravity and makes the device even more stable,” Porter explains.
There's also the look, which is definitely different. When he took the Podna for rehab patients to test at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “it even turned the heads of the people at the hospital,” Porter says. “The nurses and therapists were all coming up asking what it was.”
Now that Elaine's dream walker has come to life, where does it go from here? She and Porter have been approached by several manufacturers, and they're considering the options.
What she does know, Elaine says: “I want anyone else who won't take no for an answer to have the freedom to live a life to the fullest. I decided long ago that a disability such as mine wasn't enough to hold me back. The Podna Rover is an accessory, not a hindrance.”
Who knows? Maybe at some point we'll see the Podna on display at Medtrade.