Smart Stair Technology Has Potential to Address Accessibility Issues

“It’s like walking down a staircase with cushions on every step”

No matter when you happen to read this in your day, you’ve probably already climbed some stairs. If you’re young and able, you probably didn’t think twice about it. But for some, stairs present accessibility problems, and unless you want to retrofit entire areas, it’s a hard problem to get around.

This week, researchers at Georgia Tech unveiled a new way to take the stairs in the journal PLOS-One. The new system recycles energy and looks like it’s part spring-loaded trampoline and part StairMaster.

The “smart stairs” will more than likely find the most use in private residences where homeowners with conditions such as arthritis need a break from taking the stairs multiple times a day. There is a chance that the technology is adapted elsewhere though, but again, retrofitting is a costly practice for large areas and buildings.

How it all works:

A group of springs helps to support each step, and as you take your first step, the step below you pulls your back foot up and saves you the energy of having to lift it again. When you go down, it softens your landing so there isn’t as much stress on your knees or ankles.

“It’s like walking down a staircase with cushions on every step,” says Dr. Yun Seong Song, a researcher who worked on the project. “People with reduced mobility can stay at their own homes and enjoy their usual life rather than having to move to another place with no stairs.”

Right now, the prototype is only two steps. Early research shows that the system can save you 17.4% effort going up the stairs and 21.9% coming down. The two-step test platform cost about $1,000 to make, but the researchers think that for a full flight of stairs the cost will be about $100 per step. To put that into perspective, there are 1,576 steps in the Empire State Building, so it would cost about $157,600 to turn the iconic New York City building into a smart-stair haven.

The next goal for the researchers is to test the device on people who it will probably be most used by. The researchers who designed it are all able-bodied and young, so a test subject with movement problems will be a valuable source of info.