Stony Brook prof develops lift for seniors

Stony Brook University professor Anurag Purwar with his Stony Brook University professor Anurag Purwar with his Mobility Assistant device, used by Michael Geronimo, 90. (March 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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The idea for the product came to Anurag Purwar when his friend, a retired physician, complained of struggling to do what so many younger people take for granted: sitting and standing.

So Purwar, a Stony Brook University mechanical engineering associate professor, designed a device resembling a walker that's equipped with an electric motor to lift seniors from chairs, then ease them back down. Now he is working with Biodex Medical Systems Inc. of Shirley to develop it into a full-blown product.

"There are so many people who need help standing and sitting as they grow older," Purwar said.

The collaboration between the professor and Biodex is part of a growing push on Long Island to commercialize technology from Stony Brook and other research facilities. Officials hope the brainpower of local laboratories will spawn a culture of high-tech start-ups to boost the region's struggling economy.

Purwar and Biodex have $80,000 to develop the invention, primarily from The Research Foundation for SUNY. They plan to target nursing homes, hoping to sell about 500 of the products annually for around $5,000 apiece. They plan to pitch the device as a way to help nurses and other employees avoid back injuries while helping patients out of chairs.

The challenge, industry experts say, will be making the device lighter, cheaper and more versatile than existing products.

"Back injuries are a huge issue, and there are already products out there," said Robert Heppenheimer, chief executive of the Nesconset Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, who isn't associated with the product. "But if this one is cheaper and easier for nursing homes to use, there could be a market."

The bigger potential, however, could be selling the product for seniors to use in their homes, Heppenheimer said.

Purwar designed the device, called the Mobility Assistant, with help from a student, Thomas Galeotafiore. It's powered by a 12-volt battery, weighs about 30 pounds and is equipped with wheels to function also as a regular walker -- a feature Purwar says sets it apart from other products.

Ed Behan, a Biodex vice president, met Purwar last year at a workshop at Stony Brook for aspiring entrepreneurs. The company, founded in the 1950s as Atomic Products Corp. to develop equipment for researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, manufactures a variety of medical devices. Behan hopes to have Purwar's invention on the market within 18 months.

"More and more people want to maintain their independence and mobility," he said. "And this fits that need perfectly."

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