Elpis is a personal floatation device that is designed for Lawrence Fong, a professional triathlete who had a traumatic brain injury in 2008. After the injury and total of 4 brain surgeries, he has limited use of his left arm and currently relies on assistance. Although the injury hinders his performance, he never gave up on himself and got back to triathlon competitions because triathlon means motivation and achievement to him. Elpis was designed to enhance his performance and most importantly, further support his motivation and provide a sense of self-achievement and independence.
Unlike existing floatation vests, Elpis is designed to allow one-handed operation so that Lawrence can put it on by himself. To enhance his performance, proper vest fit and flexibility and better body balance were achieved by providing more refined adjustment of buoyancy levels.
Elpis is not just a suit to Lawrence; it provides a sense of hope to him and other paraplegic athletes. Although Elpis is specifically designed for Lawrence, paratriatheltes and non-swimmers can benefit from this kind of personal floatation device. The same idea could be used on different disabled athletes when the fit is altered. Because each para-athlete’s physical challenges are unique, it is customary to fit assistance products to their specific needs. Elpis creates an opportunity to invite newcomers to the sport, proving that a disability is not a factor.
Kira Song, Art Center College of Design
To allow Lawrence to feel greater self-achievement and independence, Elpis is designed for one hand operation. With its left side opening, he can effortlessly put on the suit over his head by holding it with his right hand. A half zipper in front gives a wider opening that allows him to put both arms through with ease. By using a magnetic closure to snap the suit closed, he can properly secure the closure himself by using only one hand. As a result, Lawrence was able to put on the suit by himself in less than 2 minutes. Best of all, he can easily take off the suit within 30 seconds without any help from others.
Lack of flexible fitting: The floatation device should fit tightly and comfortably because it could ride up or slip over his chin. Based on market research, current products do not meet his needs. Existing products have no function to adjust the size to fit and could chafe his body. Also floatation panels inside the vest cause a bulky fit. When the panels are removed, the vest then fits loosely. The solution was making removable panels that don’t affect the fit of the vest and the movement of user.
By moving floatation panels from the inside to the outside, the suit enables more flexibility and creates a tighter fit. A proper fit was achieved by providing a strapping system that enables him to have secure fitting.
Buoyancy level: Another problem was large gaps between buoyancy levels with the panels. As the training goes, he wants to gain more strength with less help from the vest. However, moving from one level of buoyancy to the next with the current product’s panels makes too much of a buoyancy difference for him, and may put him at risk. Therefore the solution was providing more refined adjustment of buoyancy, eventually allowing him to gain greater strength and train without the help of a vest in the future.
Removable floatation panels are designed in different sizes and shapes. The user can control the buoyancy level in a more refined way. An asymmetrical strapping system in the front portion of the suit creates more support on the left side of his body. Higher buoyancy is provided on the left side by angled front panels placed in strapping system. This creates better body balance while he is swimming with Elpis.
Existing floatation devices do not incorporate sustainable materials when manufactured. Elpis is made out of materials that are environmentally-friendly produced and recyclable. The main patterns are made of ariaprene, which is nontoxic synthetic rubber. It is easily decomposable, readily recyclable, and hypoallergenic.
Current floatation devices are made out of neoprene, which gets heavy when it’s wet and takes too long to dry. Elpis is made with lightweight materials, ariaprene and biolite. Biolite is fast drying and breathable and efficiently evacuates water. Ariaprene and biolite are hypoallergenic which opens usage to a wider audience. Both these materials can be incorporated with current sewing production methods.
Although Elpis is specifically designed for Lawrence, paratriatheltes and non-swimmers can benefit from this kind of personal floatation device. The same idea could be used on different disabled athletes when the fit is altered. Because each para-athlete’s physical challenges are unique, it is customary to fit assistance products to their specific needs. Elpis creates an opportunity to invite newcomers to the sport, proving that a disability is not a factor.