Americans have a well known love affair with the automobile, and for many, their hearts are specifically devoted to big vehicles — the bigger, the better. Whether it’s because they need a truck or SUV for accessing rougher roads, hauling materials or people, or simply because they like larger cars, many Americans prefer larger, taller vehicles with lots of ground clearance.
However, when it comes to auto access for mobility patients, tall trucks and similar vehicles present particular challenges in terms of helping the patient transfer in and out of a seat that might be much higher up than in a typical car or minivan.
To satisfy that need, Bruno Independent Living Aids has unveiled the Stow-Away, a powered transfer seat that is tailored for trucks and SUVs that are higher up.
Think Outside the Truck
When Bruno’s product design team first approached the need, it was immediately evident that patients owning larger trucks and SUVs were looking for a product that let them keep as much seating and floor space as possible, says Andrew Bayer, scientific technician and technologist for the engineering department of Bruno Independent Living Aids, and the idea man behind the Stow-Away
“That led to us designing something that, instead of coming from inside the vehicle and greeting the person, it came from the outside of the vehicle,” Bayer explains.
So Bruno designed a box that mounts under the vehicle’s running boards. When activated the Stow-Away container opens up, a seat comes slides out and raises up via a scissors lift mechanism to greet the patient at the desired transfer height. The scissors lift, combined with the compact design of the unit’s actuator enables it to fold like origami into the small external compartment.
To operate the chair and set the transfer height, the patient uses a single switch pendant to have the seat come out, raise up, and stop, once the chair is lifted into position. Then the patient transfers onto the seat, and hits the button again to continue moving while seated on the seat. All of this is controlled via a single rocker switch on the pendant, Bayer explains.
Bayer says the Stow-Away is intended for a wide spectrum of patients, such as paraplegics, those with MS, amputees, or patients affected by a stroke. “Even though it can be used on the passenger side, I believe it’s going to primarily be used on the driver’s side, and that’s my initial focus,” he says.
In terms of durability, Bayer says he personally tested the Stow-Away in various off-road conditions, snow, rain, car washes and even freezing the unit. To protect against corrosion, the Stow-Away is coated in a double coating process, first electrostatically and then with powder coating.
In terms of weight, the Stow-Away can support up to 300 lbs. The foam seat pad’s surface measure 16 in. by 11 in., and it is three quarters of an inch thick. An optional removable transfer plate is included in the rare instances where there might be a gap between the car’s seat and the Stow-Away seat.
The unit includes a handle for the user to grab, in addition to the streering wheel or any handle a vehicle might provide on its A pillar or door. A safety door switch ensures that the unit cannot be raised when the vehicle door is closed, and if the unit were to fail for any reason, there are both electrical and mechanical backups provided to return the unit to its box.
Where ground clearance is concerned every Stow-Away application validated by Bruno provides a minimum of 6 inches. Bayer says that this is easy to accomplish even on smaller pickups, with Ford Rangers, for example, still getting 8.5 inches. of clearance, which is more than a typical minivan.
In terms of installation, the Stow-Away is a pretty straightforward install that Bayer says takes approximately two hours. Bruno supplies vehicle-specific mounting brackets that Bruno engineers to eliminate any possible welding or cutting damage to the vehicle ,as well as any guess-work for the provider.
“We do every single installation here at our factory,” Bayer says. “We bring in the vehicle and perform the installation. That way it fits the vehicle best, we know it goes in the right location, and we know how it mounts.”
The mounts also have wide year ranges for specific models, which helps dealers stock a range of brackets with good confidence they will readily fit a patient’s truck or SUV, even early models.
To run the wiring for the Stow-Away, an electronic control module is housed in any 6 inch-by-6 inch area in the engine compartment via some mounting hardware. The wiring then leads to the Stow-Away, and to add to the simplicity, the device’s power source is the vehicle’s battery.
End cost to the consumer for the Stow-Away will run roughly $5,000, including installation, Bayer says. In terms of warranty, it falls under Bruno’s three-year warranty.
Bruno Independent Living Aids