Light shimmers off the glass on the 19th floor of the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. A patient in a harness walks up the grand staircase with a slow, but unfaltering pace while a physical therapist monitors progress. It’s a new way of rehabilitation that proves recovery is truly one step at a time.
Taking a concept regularly used in the entertainment industry, Flyhouse designed a three-dimensional flying system bringing the above scenario to reality.
In past methods, patient recovery took place in environments more likened to a gym atmosphere. The patient would get on a treadmill or a stationary bike to mimic real-life scenarios. The Ability Lab looked to Flyhouse to break free from the typical and understand the true needs of a patient.
The two key elements of the design process were creating an environment where patients comfortably recovered without impugning the overall aesthetics of the room and taking the machine feel out of a system.
The Strength and Endurance Lab integrates multiple stations where patients are asked to complete a different series of tasks whether it be maneuvering through an obstacle course or climbing a staircase.
Flyhouse designed a custom track that goes from the ground level to the landing of a staircase. It is there a patient transfers to the three-dimensional rig connected to Flyhouse’s system that follows the patient up and down the stairs. The physical therapist regulates the rate of speed with an ergonomically designed handheld wireless controller while another can monitor on a control panel located at the bottom of the stairs. If a patient were to lose balance, they instantly would hover securely in place in their harness.
Integrated over three floors of the Ability Lab, the system is noticeable only by the four-points connecting from the ceiling to the spreader bar above the harness. The four motors used to operate are hidden and noiseless. In essence, Flyhouse took the machine out of it like promised.
By adapting a unique solution from Flyhouse’s specialty to better solve another problem, thousands of patients each year are beginning to forge a path to recovery in an environment befitting to them.
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Ability Lab: Part One
The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) is a world-renowned medical center that specializes in the treatment of patients with debilitating issues through a model of integrated research, education and care. Each year, thousands of patients seek assistance from RIC to strengthen a part of their life and become whole again.
The previous location of RIC proved challenging in the center’s drive to provide more specialized care to accelerate the recovery process of its patients.
A decision was made to build a state-of-the-art center integrating the latest advancements in technology combined with the ability to conduct research all under the same roof. The building is 480 feet tall and provides 1.2 million square feet of floor space, including 800,000 square feet dedicated to clinical/research programs – nearly three times the current research space. The overall hospital is designed around five innovation centers and five differentiated labs including:
- Think + Speak: "Speech & Cognition"
- Arm + Hand: "Fine Motor"
- Legs + Walking: "Gait & Locomotion"
- Strength + Endurance: "Total Body"
Within the new building, pioneering technologies are front and center.
In the Strength and Endurance Lab, patients are regaining their ability to walk by strengthening core muscles within the body. What if a system could be created where a patient could safely move around the room and climb stairs knowing they are secure the entire time while a physical therapist controls all of it using handheld wireless controller?
Chicago Flyhouse came into this project originally as a pro-bono consultant to examine existing challenges within the proposed solution already given to RIC and provide suggestions on creating an aesthetically pleasing product. It became apparent the look and overall solution would impugn on the aesthetics of the venue.
“The amount of structure to support it [first proposed solution] on the staircase would have made it feel mechanical which was not the overall goal,” said Mark Witteveen, founder of Chicago Flyhouse. “The goal was to not make it look like a machine and they [RIC] felt it wouldn’t be true to the environment they were trying to create.”
After a few months of consulting, RIC asked Flyhouse this question: If you were to create your own solution from scratch, what would it be?
Flyhouse's solution will now become the first of its kind in any hospital setting in the United States.
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Ability Lab: Part Two
When Flyhouse envisioned a system for the new Ability Lab, we had a distinctive train of thought. We know it might frighten you to be inside our head, but let us walk you through it.
The aesthetics of a room is important. It can create an open and bright environment on the path to recovery or it can create a sterile hospital feel. We knew we had to keep in mind that the beautiful two-story glass view of the lake from the 19th floor should not be compromised by installing a fully exposed system but at the same time, it should safely protect a patient from any fall on the grand staircase. Hide the motors from sight and make sure all components are quiet when operating. The system should also be simple enough to fully train the therapist in control of it in less than two hours. Above all, the patient should have little to no distractions which will allow them to focus solely on their recovery.
In the summer of 2016, Flyhouse created a mock up within our shop to ensure it worked the way we wanted it to within the restrictions presented at the hospital. The three-month mock-up included an entire functioning system that closely mimicked the size of the stairs and facility dimensions in which we had to work.
(Pre-Installation at Flyhouse Shop)
While the shop built stairs and installed the necessary components to test the system, the electrical shop began the development of a simplified software to allow for ease of use once completed. In each step of the process, Flyhouse had the patient and therapist in mind.
So what’s within this simplified system?
A custom console located near the bottom of the coordinated system’s steps and an ergonomically designed handheld wireless controller which controls the coordinated system with both operating simultaneously. The console shows the system use in real time including the patient's path, speed, the amount of load for each axis point and the max load. This is also the area where if something happens within the system, both the console and the controller would notify the user. If for any reason the system needs to be stopped immediately, the console and controller have E-Stops which can be engaged.
The simplified software eliminates the need for advanced training by making the system intuitive to the operator.
“The key for Flyhouse was to create a system that looked beautiful in the room, functioned well, intuitive to operate, and didn’t interfere with the goal of rehabbing the patient,” Witteveen said.
In September 2016, Executives and Physical Therapists from the Ability Lab came to Flyhouse for a first-hand look at the system in action. Not only did we demonstrate the system, we got a physical therapist in a harness and had them walk the entire path of the system while another used the controller to recreate scenarios commonly seen in their day-to-day work.