If his colleagues at AJT & Associates were intrigued by the baby stroller and infant seats that Richard Wood was keeping in his office recently, they soon learned that Wood was again working on a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA) from the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).
The connection between a baby stroller and a NASA-funded outreach program might not be readily obvious, but the solution Wood created exemplifies the benefits SATOP offers to small businesses facing technical challenges.
The baby stroller that occupied Wood’s office is the product of Double Decker® Stroller, Inc., which manufactures Double Decker® and Triple Decker® strollers for infants. The Double and Triple Decker strollers are a highly innovative and affordable stroller concept, allowing parents of twins and triplets to lock the infants’ car seats onto a lightweight metal frame. Parents have to buy only a removable car seat for each child and attach it to the stroller. The strollers feature all-terrain wheels to handle curbsides, dirt roads
or rough terrain; a single width frame of only 23 inches that can easily glide through small aisles and doors, and storage baskets with plenty of room for packages and bags.
While the inventive design of the Double Decker and Triple Decker strollers has won the company praise and a steadily growing clientele – the strollers were picked by Pregnancy Magazine’s 2003 Buyers Guide as a great multiples product - they could be used with car seats produced by only one of the leading car seat manufacturers. “In order to expand our market, we needed to make the stroller locking mechanism compatible with the other major brand of car seats,” said Marshajene Schaaf, president of Double Decker Stroller.
This goal proved to be a major challenge because the company did not want to redesign the stroller and was looking for a cost-effective solution to make the locking mechanism adaptable to other car seats.
Schaaf then heard about SATOP through the Florida Small Business Administration and decided to contact SATOP for help. SATOP put Schaaf in touch with Richard Wood, P.E., a Senior Vice President at AJT, which is located in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Within a few weeks, Wood presented Schaaf with a simple, cost-effective solution using plastic, flexible hose purchased at Home Depot.
Wood’s prototype solution consisted of placing the hose over the existing cross bars of the stroller, allowing the second brand of car seat to be locked in place securely. “After analyzing what it would take to secure the car seat in place, it became a challenge to provide the fix with a simple accessory item,” explained Wood. “I ended up using a few inches of flexible, plastic hose slit lengthwise over the cross bar to act as a bushing.” Wood tested his solution by pushing the stroller, with car seats attached, around the AJT offices.
Schaaf said that she was impressed with the adapter device Wood provided because it required no tooling changes to the existing stroller and will be easy for consumers to attach. The adapter can also be sent out to existing customers so that they can have the option of using another brand of car seat with the stroller.
“Thanks to SATOP we are now able to expand our market because our new stroller model can now accommodate both of the major car seat brands,” Schaaf said. “As a small company, it would have been almost impossible for us to access the engineering expertise of someone like Richard Wood without help from SATOP.”