When watching TV or film, smooth, steady shots are something some take for granted. They somehow move quickly across the floor, with no jolts or dizziness.
As it turns out, viewers have Garrett Brown and his groundbreaking invention, the steadicam, to thank for these shots.
The Steadicam is a lightweight, portable stabilizer that gives cameramen a steady hand when they’re out shooting footage like Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The steadicam is standard today and has evolved beyond film. There is the Sky Cam, the Fly Cam and the Dive Cam.
We met Brown five years ago on assignment for CBS Sunday Morning nearing retirement. Now he’s back with a new invention that helps people with disabilities move with the same fluidity as his steadicam.
He calls his latest invention the Zeen.
“What do we need? We need a comfortable chair,” Brown told CBS Saturday Morning co-host Michelle Miller. “We don’t have to drop this chair to move. But hey, let’s get up without the roar of engines and slow vvvvvv – you know, let’s get up like a kid.”
The idea came to the 80-year-old a decade ago while visiting his then 97-year-old father in nursing homes.
“I’ve been watching his buddies,” Brown said. “And between walkers and wheelchairs, it seemed to me that something big was missing. Once you get into a wheelchair, your feet aren’t particularly planted on the ground. You are not upright. Being erect is great for your heart, your bone density, your- – your limbic system, your digestive system. And it is especially valuable for your psychological well-being. Being around the people around you is one of the things we hear most often that they love about this machine.”
It took Brown and a small team of engineers about a decade of invention and tinkering to get the machine just right. Starting with prototypes, some of which now look pretty ridiculous to Brown.
“I took an old rollator and had this saddle welded onto it just to see how that feels,” Brown said. “You have to be willing to look pretty goofy and silly when testing prototypes for machines that work with humans.”
He began marketing them at health conventions, AARP conferences, and anywhere he could reach people with mobility issues. To date he has produced about 100 Zens.
It’s already attracting customers like Anomie Fatale, who has relied primarily on their power wheelchair and walker.
“With the rollator, there is absolutely no support,” Fatale said. “When I use this, I have to focus all my energy on not falling, which is why I can’t even use a walker unaided.”
On the day of our visit she was trying out her new Zeen.
“Not being able to sit down like that,” Fatale said, “it gives you back something that you’ve lost and miss every day.”
Brown noted the benefits of the Zeen.
“The moment we give you this, A. degree of freedom and B. autonomy. And that’s an important word in that,” Brown said. “Once you’re in and you’re safe, you’re on your own.”
It’s almost become a higher calling. It became even clearer last fall when Brown traveled to Rome to do a special delivery.
“I was watching a video report of Pope Francis struggling with mobility,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘He could use one of these things.'”
The letter he wrote must have been persuasive.
“It went around the Vatican,” Brown said. “And we were checked. And didn’t we get a wonderful letter back saying, ‘Yes, we accept. Many Thanks.'”
“And we heard later that it’s at his apartment. So this story is unfolding,” Brown continued. “Not an official citation, but, you know, if — if it’s useful to Pope Francis, that would be really, really satisfying.”
Brown hopes to let anyone who may benefit from the Zeen know that his new invention is here to help.
“Inventing is what we do for a good life,” Brown said. “Inventing a life means imagining what you want, that is, what is missing and what you have to do to get there.”