The Smart Cushion was designed specifically to prevent the formation of pressure sores in wheelchair-bound individuals. As such, its operation aims to create an environment that is the antithesis of one in which pressure sores might thrive. Because pressure sores are formed when a particular local surface area of flesh is subjected to a pressure which inhibits blood flow, the Smart Cushion creates circumstances under which pressures are in a state of flux across the entire surface area of the patient’s rear end. A particular local surface area, therefore, will not be subjected to a constant pressure for an extended period of time.

So how does the Smart Cushion ensure that pressures are always changing? It does so by rotating through a timed succession of six states, or pressure profiles. Because the Smart Cushion is made up of individually controlled air cell quadrants, we are able to vary which quadrants are inflated to what extent in each state. And because the extent to which any given quadrant is inflated/deflated is based on pressure values obtained in the patient-specific setup mode, the Smart Cushion ensures a customized experience.

Direct competitors do exits for the Smart Cushion. The APK2, manufactured by the Aquila Corporation, also automatically inflates and deflates air bladders, but for $3900, it had better wash the dishes, too. And while the air bladders are configured in the cushion based on the needs of each client, unlike the Smart Cushion, the pressues in those bladders aren’t based on the user.

Now, because the Smart Cushion is a prototype, it is only meant to be used in a professional setting as an educational tool. Our target client for the Smart Cushion was Greg, a seat fitment professional at the Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation in Wichita, KS. A typical use scenario would involve Greg inviting a wheelchair-bound resident to demo the Smart Cushion. In order to get meaningful, teachable results, Greg would lay a high-resolution pressure sensing mat over the Smart Cushion, and then follow the instructions in the user manual. By doing so, he would demonstrate to the patient how pressure variance across the rear end can help to alleviate problems with pressure sores.

The first iteration of the Smart Cushion worked under a somewhat different theory of operation. It worked by being given a target pressure, and then using the sensors/pumps/valves to maintain something very close to that pressure. This method was inferior for two reasons. First, because it operated under the assumption that an “ideal” pressure should be maintained at all times, it was running much more often than the current version. Granted, it only ran in short bursts, but they were frequent, and annoying. Second, maintaining some particular pressure, whether supposedly ideal or not, is not the way to attack the problem of pressure sores. The trick is changing pressure periodically so that no one area of skin is under constant stress. In other words, the high pressure point is shifted around to various areas as the cushion cycles through the six pressure profiles.