UIC Innovation Center
Dr. Craig Niederberger
Great intersection of something that aimed to improve health—but respect and increase performance. Appreciated the fact hat research and prototyping lef to a shirt from desigining a new seat to designing shorts. – Kate
Research shows that bicycle seats over time can cause pelvic arterial occlusion and a decrease in penile blood flow. Studies conducted by Dr. Craig Niederberger, a leading Urologist and UIC Innovation Center client, have established that both the traditional and more ergonomic bicycle seats occlude the pelvic arteries and negatively impact male fertility. To explore solutions for this problem, the UIC Innovation Center developed a succession of functional prototypes to wirelessly sense and proactively warn riders, through visual communication, of impending occlusion and it’s impact on cycling performance.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Dr. Niederberger came to the Innovation Center (IC) with a decade’s worth of bike-seat research using varied prototypes and methodologies for testing arterial occlusion. He asked the IC to help him design a bike seat and accompanying web and mobile interface to interact with the data collected. This bike seat was to integrate the technology that he had developed into a form that was easily manufacturable and palatable to avid and amateur cyclists.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
As the UIC Innovation Center got engaged, our research revealed that few cyclists wanted to buy more ergonomic bike-seats because of their association with the stigma of erectile dysfunction. Dismal ergonomic bike-seat sales and a vast number of competitors with little scientific rigor (but large marketing budgets) only compounded the problem.
In partnership with Dr. Niederberger, the Innovation Center embarked on a series of research efforts to explore the highest pressure points on the seat and designed a series of prototypes that minimize this. We then came to the realization that occlusion cannot be wholly prevented by seat design (the nature of sitting is occlusion and seats afford sitting. We changed are goal from eliminating to minimizing occlusion by promoting a better riding stance while improving cycling power output.
To address this new goal, our new objective was to develop a system that would wirelessly detect occlusion and output a compelling visual abstraction of that data - meaningful enough to the rider (aimed at competitive/avid cyclists) - to change their behavior and minimize prolonged occlusion. We embedded inexpensive, flexible sensors into bicycle shorts, built our own circuit board and wrote our own computer program to visualize the data output. We designed the interface in a style reminiscent of existing computer training programs.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
We built on Dr. Niederberger's strong foundation in technical research and engineering advances by exploring the behavior of the avid cyclist, attitudes about the use of consumer products to collect clinical data, issues around men’s health and its relationship to cycling, and defined target-market attributes.
We built over 200 rough bike seat prototypes and a dozen working bike prototypes. These working prototypes were used by a handful of cyclists, to collect both quantitative sensor-based data and qualitative data about the look and feel of the bike seat designs. When the data was analyzed it became clear that a bike seat approach wouldn't work due to the fact that the nature of sitting on a seat will always occlude--the real variables were the individual's anatomy and cycling stance/technique.
After changing direction, we again quickly mocked up rough prototypes using existing bike shorts and began the process of collecting quantitative and qualitative data all over again.
In the end, a "one size fits all" approach is thrown out due to the reality that all sizes ride bikes. We address this issue by designing fit assessment into the garment. The pressure sensors are located exactly where they need to be via a combination of medical imaging work, anatomy and computational engineering. All the user needs to do is ensure the garment fits them comfortably and the rest is taken care of by us.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
By shifting from a bike seat to bike shorts, not only are we able to collect more accurate data, but we expand the reach of our product. Bike shorts are inexpensive to manufacture and are more discreet than bike seats (minimizing associations with erectile dysfunction). Our hope is that as we increase awareness about the association between cycling and male reproductive health we can encourage behavior changes that will increase quality of life for cyclists. ddresses more than just male reproductive health but the longevity of all riders by the posture they usually unwittingly adapt over time.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
While the goal had always been the same, the physical form had to change from a seat to bike shorts in order to be more acceptable to the end user.