As any dog owner can attest, injuries to canine legs are some of the most common and painful afflictions to befall our four-legged friends. Although dogs usually manage to adapt to their new situation, some dog owners often decide to put an injured dog to sleep rather than subject him to a life of perceived misery. That wasn't acceptable to Israeli industrial design student Nir Shalom, who has designed a concept called Amigo, a lightweight, durable walking aid for dogs who have lost the use of their hind legs.
The challenge was creating something as sophisticated as a dog's actual body.Shalom began his project only knowing that he was interested in designing for animals. After talking to several veterinarians, he discovered that limb injuries were most in need of a new design concept. Devices made to help dogs walk are usually flimsy and amateur, making life tough for both the dog and the owner. "I decided to develop a super-ergonomic, lightweight, and durable walking aid made especially for dogs--that will also fulfill all of the dog owners' needs," Shalom tells Co.Design. He began exploring issues around dog limb injuries, pelvis problems, and genetic diseases, consulting with expert veterinarians and dog physiotherapists in order to understand the unique movement of the canine body. As Shalom started his research, he looked for a dog in need of his concept. (Although Shalom has four dogs of his own, they're all healthy.) Three months into his research he met a friend's dog named Amy, who is featured in the video. Amy became paralyzed by a herniated disc when she was only a year old. "Amy cannot move her rear torso and cannot control her feces," says Shalom. "After I heard Amy's story I decided that the first Amigo prototype would be made especially for her." Shalom then began the arduous task of creating what was essentially an extension of the dog's existing anatomy, but one that was natural enough so she wouldn't try to take off the device. Working with a plaster cast of Amy's torso, Shalom designed an ergonomic walking device of molded plastic and aluminum, one that would cradle her body from the bottom, perfectly matching her shape and size, yet allowing Amy's pelvis to move normally along a central axis. A small pair of rubber wheels in the back would keep Amy's legs off the ground, and a velcro platform could hold them close to their natural position. As he made adjustments to the prototype, Shalom realized that even though the client couldn't communicate with words, she made it very clear when something wasn't working. "When the design didn’t fit and Amy didn't feel comfortable with it, she refused to walk with it, no matter how much I tried," he says. Shalom tested prototype after prototype, until one day Amy started to walk, then run, then jump. Soon she was attempting staircases. "I continued to refine that prototype until Amy could move from resting position to running position on her own," says Shalom. "That point was the greatest reward, to see Amy running, jumping, going down stairs and easily moving between walking, sitting, and lying down."
Shalom's solution is already well on its way to becoming a reality.The real challenge was in designing a mechanism that was as sophisticated as a dog's actual body, with strong, flexible hindquarters that allow dogs to move so quickly between sitting, resting and standing, he says. "I realized this had to be based on dogs' natural movement, but still be simple enough to use by a disabled dog, without any help from their owners." Although it seems like a dog would have to be trained to comfortably use such a device, Shalom says that by using an intuitive shape that mimicked a dog's natural bone structure--including elastic bands that act like ligaments and aluminum "bones"--Amy quickly understood how Amigo worked. Where most student projects like this end up in a portfolio, forever relegated to the prototype phase, Shalom's solution is already well on its way to becoming a reality. Shalom has recently partnered with Nekuda DM, a product development company, which is assisting with Amigo's mass-market introduction. Now they just need financial backing to bring it to the public. "We've patented Amigo's core features, and we're looking for a passionate angel investor who loves dogs, to help us bring Amigo to market and to help as many dogs as we can," says Shalom. [H/T Yanko Design]