Niagara College press release – The aging population has a new made-in-Niagara solution to help regain their freedom of movement, thanks to a new device created by a local company with help from Niagara College’s Research & Innovation division.
Niagara Falls-based start-up Bisep Inc. is kicking off the new year by rolling out the full-scale commercialization of a new device that helps connect a person’s wheelchair to their walker, enabling unaided movement – solving a common challenge in long-term care. Named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism), the device acts as a security bridge to allow users to walk unassisted with their walker while the wheelchair trails safely behind them.
They plan to manufacture 1,000 units at Spark Niagara, a small manufacturing facility in Niagara Falls which, in turn, supports the creation of jobs and economy in the Niagara region.
The device was the brainchild of Bisep Inc. CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave, who identified the need, came up with the concept and turned to NC’s engineering research team for assistance in getting its innovative medical technology to market.
“We were limited in the machinery that we had and the brain capacity … we are not engineers,” said Bordenave. “What attracted me to Niagara College was the ability to access the amazing innovation department, a national leading group of engineers, and essentially create a quality product that would be functional, user-friendly, and safe.”
“This project is an example of applied research at its best, providing learning opportunities for our students as we help businesses innovate,” said Marc Nantel, NC’s vice president of Research, Innovation and Strategic Initiatives. “We are proud to use our expertise at our Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre to provide solutions for a Niagara-based company that will assist the aging population in our community and beyond.”
Bordenave recognized the need for such a device while working as a kinesiologist in a long-term care facility. While it is standard practice for two or more health-care practitioners to help one patient with mobility training – one or two helping the individual walk while another walks behind with the wheelchair in case of falls – funding was only available for a second therapist twice a week.
“Patients weren’t walking on a daily basis, and I couldn’t keep up due to safety concerns and regulations,” he said. “These folks were spending more sedentary time in their beds, in their wheelchairs and not improving, or causing further muscle loss because they were just not walking.”
Bordenave came up with the concept of attaching the wheelchair to the walker. After formulating his idea, he enlisted the tool and die talents of his grandfather to help fabricate a proof-of-concept prototype in their garage. To get it to market, he sought help from the engineering team at NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, based at the Welland Campus. NC’s R&I engineering team executed two projects to get to the final prototype, with funding from the Niagara Region and the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).
First, the College research team capitalized on its mechanical design software and rapid prototyping technologies to create an initial prototype that would be ready for real-world testing, while Bisep put it into use in a medical research environment. Bisep conducted successful clinical trials through a collaborative research project with the Niagara Region and Brock University.
In addition to having a NC Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant student assist Bisep on a co-op placement, professor Jodi Steele, from the College’s School of Justice and Fitness, leveraged her contacts to help the company secure live focus groups with therapists. Bordenave brought the ARMM to hospitals and long-term care facilities for focus groups with more than 100 therapists.
Bisep returned to NC for design modifications to produce a product that was universal to most wheelchairs and walkers, and adjustable to accommodate varying heights of users. The team replaced welded parts with 3D-printed components to increase the degree of variability in adjusting the device. Another major modification to the design was an exercise mode function – which involves standing from a seated position, a critical ability for mobility and fall prevention.
NC Mechanical Engineering Technology student Avery Edge valued the opportunity to work on the second phase of the project as a research assistant with WAMIC. “I have learned a lot about material strengths and properties, and how they affect the strength and performance of a device,” said Edge. “Being able to work with all technologies on this project also made it so enjoyable … going from computer CAD software to 3D printing to manual metal working for prototypes allowed me to experience what it takes all around to make a great device.”
Bisep has received several accolades for its new device. During the summer of 2019, Bisep placed first in a competition for start-up companies whose innovation in technologies or services can benefit older adults and caregivers. Bordenave was crowned the winner for Ontario in a National Impact Challenge: Startup Edition, AGE-WELL (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.). He was among five finalists to pitch their technology-based solution in one of three regional events in Canada. Bisep was also selected to work with XLerate Health, the largest health-care accelerator in the United States, to help them tap into the U.S. market, doing demonstrations at various health-care facilities.
Bordenave credited student and staff expertise at NC with helping to bring his concept to fruition. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the help of Niagara College’s Research & Innovation department,” said Bordenave. “If it weren’t for them, I probably would not have the company now or would not have done anything. Having access to funding and the research expertise was beyond amazing.”