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The Airlift is a low cost, pneumatic patient transfer device which helps unaccompanied Healthcare Workers safely perform three key patient movements.

  • The Airlift

  • The Airlift - Problem scope and feature summary

    The Airlift - Problem scope and feature summary

  • The Airlift aids in 3 key patient movements

  • The Airlift pump, inner bladder and outer sleeve

  • Concept sketches

  • Prototypes throughout the project

What it does

The Airlift is a pneumatic patient transfer device which aids Healthcare Workers in three key patient movements. The design is intended to prevent ageing Healthcare Workers from injuring themselves when working unsupported in the community.

Your inspiration

A spike in demand for at-home care, alongside an under-resourced and rapidly ageing workforce is making community healthcare work increasingly dangerous. Our research found that Healthcare Workers were often left to reposition patients on their own, which subjects their bodies to high levels of strain. Whilst there is a plethora of devices on the market that aid with patient repositioning, they are often expensive and bulky, or require multiple people to be used safely. The AirLift responds to these shortfalls, by providing an inexpensive means of repositioning patients, which can be used safely by an individual Healthcare Worker of any age.

How it works

Once tucked underneath the patient, the AirLift can be inflated using a remote-control pump, which fills the inner bladder with air and lifts the patient off the bed. Placing a layer of air between the patient and the bed significantly reduces the force required for repositions. This mitigates the risk of injury, as the device does the heavy lifting, whilst the Healthcare Worker steadies the patient. The pump is controlled using a remote-control clip, which can be attached to the Healthcare Worker’s clothes for hands free use or housed in the top of the pump for charging and transport. By folding the device prior to insertion, the Healthcare Worker can switch between three key patient movements. Handles around the perimeter of the AirLift remove the need to grab the sheet directly, addressing dexterity issues ageing workers often face, and the removable cover can be replaced to meet hygiene requirements.

Design process

We began by identifying our design problem. This involved a design SPRINT, surveying nurses, and a few rounds of feedback. From here we broke the device into core components and brainstormed ideas using morphological analysis. Although fun, these initial concepts, which included vacuum sealed sponges and soft robotic arms were overly complicated. The idea to use pneumatics presented itself on a camping trip, when one of the team was inflating a dry bag. Realising the potential, we modified an inflatable lounge so that it could comfortably reposition a human, which served as our initial proof of concept. From there the design evolved into a kit consisting of a pump, an inflatable bladder, and a slide sheet. Soft body simulations were invaluable at this point, helping us to visualise how the device would work. Following interviews with experts in the field, we refined the concept further – and decided to combine the inflatable bladder and slide sheet into a single component. To assess how to safely handle patients, we modified a standard slide sheet, stitching handles around the perimeter. Finally, we reduced the size of the pump and added a remote control, which we 3D printed and painted. 

How it is different

The Airlift’s pneumatic capabilities remove the need to physically lift the patient and reduce the force required to translate them around the bed. This in turn improves the experience for the patient, as they are being repositioned on a cushion of air, instead of being dragged around on a sheet. Handles around the perimeter of the device address grip strength and dexterity issues common amongst ageing Healthcare Workers, and the removable cover can be replaced to meet hygiene requirements. The Airlift’s outer cover is washable, avoiding a single use scenario. The pump is designed for disassembly and will be manufactured using reclaimed plastic.

Future plans

Our next step is to manufacture a functional prototype. We are currently in the process of applying to design competitions, which would help us fund this stage. We also want to assess the sustainability of the design. Whilst it can be reused, end of life for the sheet is an issue. It is clear to us that labelling something “medical” should not ensure it a place in landfill. We intend the AirLift to reflect this mantra and will continue looking for ways to improve the circularity of the design. 


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