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July 25th, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Wingman takes toilet seat design to the next level

Other seats don’t compete with the Wingman when you have any type of physical mobility issue.

Wingman is a state of the art toilet seat design that provides the broadest range of palming and grip surfaces. Designed as a companion aid in the most personal and private spaces, Wingman provides support to individuals who prefer to assist themselves to the best of their ability.
Wingman mounts as a common lavatory seat and performs as well or better for those preferring to use it in a conventional manner. However, for those who seek improved comfort and control Wingman offers intelligently place palming and grip surfaces supporting the user’s preferred methods of transferring to and from the seat.
The Wingman is one of the featured exhibitors at the DaVinci Inventor Showcase, which takes place on Oct 13, 2012 at the Denver Merchandise Mart.

Wingman inventor and designer Stephen Cowen recently took time to talk to us about defining his market, creating a revolutionary product design and 3D printer prototype design creation …


The bottom side of the Wingman shows off another significant safety aspect of the product.

What was the defining moment that led you to create this product? What problem does it solve?

The defining moment was when I was sitting on a toilet seat trying to figure out what I could possibly use to support some portion of my weight and lessen the severe weight bearing pain in my knees after a day of snowboarding 30,000 vertical feet on double black diamond moguls. You see, I have spent a lifetime enjoying extreme sports and I have the knee surgery scars to prove it. When I lowered to the toilet seat that day it was painful, but from experience I knew that raising was always more painful. In the end, the only thing I could find for support was the front of the toilet seat. So I palmed off the front of the seat with and extended and found that with my arm nearly extended I could support half my body (my upper body) while straightening my legs to stand thereby removing 90lbs of pressure from the joints and virtually eliminating the pain. Once my legs were straight, I straighten my back to a fully standing position. It was a this point I realized that it would be great if toilet seats specifically designed the center front portion of the seat as a palming and grip aid. In addition, I pictured it looking something like a surfboard; not like the typically creepy appearance of medical toilet seats. My first drawings followed this thinking, but after making a study of the needs of people with ambulatory difficulties I realized that side supports were equally important so my surfboard grew wings and morphed into something more aeronautical.


After you came up with the idea, how did you size up the market and decide who your customers would be?
I sized up the market by researching populations known to have ambulatory problems related to deficiencies in their “weight to strength ratio” and/or “balance or control” and/or “weight bearing pain” and the caretakers of such populations. In addition, I considered the fact that while disabilities can be permanent they can also be temporary, or intermittent like a trick knee or bad back that goes out on occasion or eminent for at risk population such as individuals who are obese. Clearly the most obvious market segment that jumped out was the elderly which as a result of infirmity can suffer strength, control, and muscular skeleton pain. In addition the +28% percent of the population which is obese can suffer weight to strength issues and are at a higher risk of lower extremity injuries. Just counting the Elderly and Obese there is a total available market of over 100 million Americans not to mention individuals with multiple types of injuries, diseases, medications, and alcohol/substance abuse.  Then consider the number of caregivers who provide toilet facilities for clients, patrons, patients, or employees. In addition, there are private able bodied individuals who have visiting friends and relatives who need addition support when they come to their home. The total number of required toilet seats can number greater that one third of the U.S. population.


How did you go about naming your product?
It is what it is: It has wings and much like the classic definition of a Wingman it there for support.


How long did it take you to create you initial prototype, and what problems did you run into along the way?
The first prototype was easy. It only took a few months to create a 3D model and print it out in ABS plastic with a 3D printer. The follow on prototypes required careful material selection for strength, safety, ease of molding and then the creation of hard tooling. This process has taken a couple of years. The single most important problem was realizing that to achieve the strength required the seat was heavy and to prevent it from coming down to hard it required a dampening device or torsion spring to lessen the weight when lowering or raising.


How did you go about finding funding for your invention?
I have funded it out of my retirement savings.


Is this a product you’d like to produce and sell yourself, or are you wanting to license it to someone else?
In the beginning I would like to produce and sell the product myself. In the future, I may consider licensing deals if it increases market penetration.


What channels are you using to market your product?
Today, the only channel that I’ve used is on site presentations. This is largely do to the fact that I’ve felt it important to grow organically and establish a base of case studies to insure that the product was meeting expectations.


How many people do you currently have involved in your business?
Currently I have a Senior Quality Manager working directly with me to insure the quality and safety of the seat. In addition, I have outsource partners (all in the USA) that consists of two mold making companies, one molder, one machine shop and one metal stamping company and a couple of quick turn prototype shops with 3D printing capabilities.


How do you define success? What would hitting a “home run” look like in your mind?
I would measure success as being able to help millions of people find comfort and prevent unnecessary injury and at the same time securing my family financially.  A home run would be getting State and National building codes to allow WINGMAN in public and employee provided restroom facilities to better serve and protect the public.


Where do people go to find out more about your product?
Also, WINGMAN will be on display at the Denver Art Museum for their upcoming “Open for Design” exhibition. It is scheduled to open to the general public Saturday Aug 4th and run through Sunday September 2. The exhibition, will be in the Anschutz gallery on level 2 of the Hamilton Building.
WINGMAN will be displayed on a modern low profile toilet basin.


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