When watching TV or movies, smooth, flat images are something some people take for granted. They somehow move quickly across the floor without any jolts or a feeling of dizziness.
As it turns out, viewers can thank Garrett Brown and his pioneering invention, the Steadicam, for these images.
The Steadicam is a lightweight, handheld stabilizer that gives camera operators a steady hand on the go to capture shots like Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky, running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Now standard issue, the Steadicam has evolved beyond film. There is sky cam, flight cam and dive cam.
We met Brown five years ago, on assignment for “CBS Sunday Morning,” during his retirement. Now he’s back with a new invention to help people with disabilities move with the same smoothness as the Steadicam.
He calls his latest invention Zeen.
“What do we need? We need a comfortable chair,” Brown told “CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller. “We need to avoid dropping that chair to get moving. But hey, let’s get on our feet without whining engines and slow vvvvvv – you know, let’s get up like a kid.”
The 80-year-old came up with the idea a decade ago, while visiting his then 97-year-old father in care facilities.
“I looked at his friends,” Brown said. “And something big seemed to me that was missing between walkers and wheelchairs. Once you get into a wheelchair, your feet aren’t on the ground in particular. You’re not upright. Standing upright is good for your heart, your bone density, your – – your limbic system, your digestive system. And that’s especially valuable for your psychological well-being. Being up among your fellow humans is one of the things we hear most often that they love about this machine.”
It took about a decade of invention and tinkering before Brown and a small team of engineers got the machine just right. Starting with prototypes, some of which look pretty ridiculous to Brown now.
“I took an old walker and got this saddle welded on it just to see how this feels,” Brown said. “You have to be willing to look pretty dumb and stupid when you’re testing prototypes for machines that work with people.”
He started marketing them at health conventions, AARP conferences, anywhere he could reach people with limited mobility. To date, he has produced around 100 Zeens.
It is already attracting customers like Anomie Fatale, who relied mostly on her electric wheelchair and walker.
“With the walker, there’s absolutely no support,” Fatale said. “All my energy when I use it requires me to focus on not falling, which is why I can’t even use a walker without help.”
On the day of our visit, she was trying out her new Zeen.
“To not be able to sit to stand yourself like that,” Fatale said, “it gives you back something you lost that you miss every day.”
Brown noted Zeen’s benefits.
“The moment we give you this, A. degree of freedom, and B. autonomy. And that’s an important word with this,” Brown said. “When you’re in it and you’re safe, you’re on your own.”
It has almost become a higher calling. Became even more evident last fall, when Brown traveled to Rome to make a special delivery.
“I watched a video report of Pope Francis struggling with mobility,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘He could use one of these things.’
The letter he wrote must have been persuasive.
“It went around the Vatican,” Brown said. “And we were investigated. And didn’t we get back a wonderful letter saying, “Yes, we accept. Thank you very much.”
“And we later heard it’s in his apartment. So this story unfolds,” Brown continued. “No official citation, but, you know, if — if it’s helpful to Pope Francis, that would be very, very satisfying.”
Brown hopes to get the word out to anyone who could benefit from Zeen that his new invention is here to help.
“Inventing is what we do for a living,” Brown said. “Inventing a life is imagining what you want, that is, what is missing, and what you have to do to get there.”