Being elderly is not what it used to be. Which is a good thing. A Netherlands based company, Rollz Intenational, has recently launched the Rollz Motion, a breakthrough rollator that transforms into a wheelchair at the flick of the wrist, which was specifically conceived for the ‘new generation’ of seniors. 

“Seniors of the 21st century are enterprising, inquisitive and love to be out and about. We want to inspire them to stay as they are, even when reduced mobility hits,” says Arjan Muis, director of Rollz International, based in Amsterdam.

“Until a few years ago, the elderly were people whose formative years had occurred in the 1950s or 60s, when there was not much choice in terms of products and technologies. Nowadays, though, we are met with the baby boomers, individuals who have often had much more access to money and all that goes along with it.

"They understand design and technology; they want something that suits their needs like a glove. These people are not happy with a basic walking aid provided by a national health system – they are out shopping for quality because they know this will be translated into a better lifestyle.”

These considerations propelled the excitement that hit Muis and second director Maarten Sluyter of Rollz when designer Martijn Schaaper presented them, a year back, with his innovative rollator concept.

Schaaper, a former graduate in Human Movement from Den Haag University (a master’s degree that mixes engineering, functional anatomy and human factors in the curriculum) had been working on ergonomic mobility since his graduation.

“I was actually designing a kerb climber for a rollator back in 2004,” Schaaper recalls, “an accessory to help avoid the unpleasant need to lift up the walking aid when meeting a bump in the road.

"In order to develop the best possible concept, I spent a lot of time with elderly people, mainly living in care facilities. Each one of them had both a rollator and a wheelchair in their room. It struck me: was it really necessary to have two products – to basically achieve the same purpose – to move about?

"What if we could combine the two functions, wouldn’t life be better for seniors? What if people could be given a walking aid that doesn’t make them feel like a patient? After all, nobody feels impaired by the need to wear glasses. Could a walking aid ever be perceived in the same way?”

Schaaper approached his senior contacts with the idea and got an extremely positive response. “Before I start designing I always make a functionality study,” he says. “And I ran all sketches and ideas through my panel of experts: the guests of the care home” – who turned out to be a tricky audience to please as they have specific requirements.

“At first I proposed solutions that were very much ‘designed’, that is to say, possibly too trendy or stylish. They did not like them. They thought it was ‘too much’. They wanted something with an improved stylish look but truly honest and not too trendy. So we came up with the final sleek and sturdy design after many colour tests.”

Hence, the Rollz Motion was born. Its main feature is, of course, the ability to easily turn it into a wheelchair. The attachment can be clicked onto the rollator at home or be positioned at the back of the rollator and set to use in a single flowing motion.

The handles, which are angled inwards in the rollator position, are reversible and height-adjustable to enable the wheelchair to be pushed comfortably. Finally, the footrests click into place effortlessly.

But there are many other features that make the Rollz Motion unique. First of all, the breaking system. “It all stemmed from observation,” says Muis.

“One of the greatest problems with these kind of products is the fact that coming to a sudden halt is not a straightforward business because the breaks are rather flimsy. Traditionally there is a pushing element that provides pressure on the tyres, so when they are dirty or slippery they do not work properly. The designer, thus, came up with a drum break, wrapped in a closed system.”

“It’s not an innovation per se, obviously,” says Schaaper. “Drum breaks are used on bikes and cars. But we are the first to apply them onto rollators.” This solution, coupled with the foam-filled rear tyres for perfect suspension, make the Rollz Motion extremely safe to use.

“Manoeuvrability has also always been an issue,” says Muis. “So we geared the rollator with swivel front wheels. The handles can be adjusted in height and the rollator is designed in such a way that the user can stand between the handles and feel confident walking upright.

"It goes without saying that it can also stand upright by itself and it is extremely compact so it can be easily stored anywhere in the home or in a car boot.”

“The most innovative part of the project was the development of the frame,” says Schaaper. “It needed to be extremely stiff yet also very light. Aluminium was an obvious choice but we worked a lot on the design in order to reduce the weight to the bare minimum without losing anything in terms of solidity.

"In the final design phase, we therefore changed the folding and locking mechanisms a little from the original design and we allowed no tolerance. The result is a rollator that weighs a mere 9.5 kilos and 11 when it is in a wheelchair position (traditionally it’s 16-17). But the frame itself is only 3.5 kilos.”

The Rollz Motion is hitting the stores in northern Europe in Spring 2011. Arjan Muis and Maarten Sluyter could not have chosen better timing.

“Until now, people who needed rollators would be given a portion of money from national insurances that would cover the total cost for a normal rollator,” Muis explains. “Yet a new law has just been passed and this will no longer be the case. Which means that users will feel freer to select something that they truly like.”

Baby boomers may be ‘getting on’ a bit now but they have never truly given up their passion for shopping for quality. “We count on their attention on design and usability,” says Sluyter.

“We are the only ones to present them with a high-quality rollator that allows them to retain effortless freedom of motion – and to do so in style. After all, it’s important to feel good when you are out and about, whatever age you may be.” 

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