When watching TV or movies, smooth and stable shots are something some take for granted. They kind of move quickly across the floor without any bumps or dizzy feelings.
Ultimately, viewers can thank Garrett Brown and his revolutionary invention, the Steadicam, for these shots.
The Steadicam is a lightweight handheld stabilizer that gives camera operators a steady hand when on the go to capture footage like Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky, climbing the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Now standard, Steadicam 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,” at the time of retirement. Now he’s back with a new invention to help people with disabilities move with the same smoothness as his Steadicam.
He calls his latest invention the Zeen.
“What do we need? We need a comfortable chair,” said Brown, “CBS Saturday Morning” co-host Michelle Miller. “We don’t have to give up this chair to move. But hey, let’s get up without the moan of the engines and slow vvvvvv – you know, let’s get up like a child.”
The 80-year-old came up with the idea ten years ago while visiting his father, then 97, in care facilities.
“I was watching his buddies,” Brown said. “And it seemed to me that there was something big missing between walkers and wheelchairs. Once you’re confined to a wheelchair, your feet aren’t particularly on the ground. You’re not standing. Being standing is great for your heart, your bone density, your–your limbic system, your digestive system. And it’s especially valuable for your psychological well-being. Being among other humans is one of the things we hear the more often than they like about this machine.
It took about a decade of invention and tinkering for Brown and a small team of engineers to get the perfect machine. Starting with prototypes, some that look pretty ridiculous to Brown now.
“I took an old walker and welded this saddle on it just to see what it looks like,” Brown said. “You have to be prepared to look pretty clumsy and silly when testing prototype machines that work with humans.”
He started marketing them at healthcare conventions, AARP conferences, anywhere he could reach people with mobility issues. To date he has produced around 100 Zeens.
It already attracts customers like Anomie Fatale, which relied primarily on its electric wheelchair and walker.
“With the walker, there’s absolutely no support,” Fatale said. “All my energy when using this requires me to focus on not falling, which is why I can’t even use a walker without assistance.”
The day we visited, she tried out her new Zeen.
“Not being able to sit down to stand like that,” Fatale said, “it gives you back something that you 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 a big word with that,” Brown said. “When you’re in it and you’re safe, you’re all alone.”
It has almost become a higher vocation. Made even more evident last fall, when Brown traveled to Rome to make a special delivery.
“I was watching a video report of Pope Francis struggling with mobility,” Brown said. “I thought, ‘He could use one of those things.'”
The letter he wrote had to be convincing.
“He’s been around the Vatican,” Brown said. “And we got vetted. And didn’t we get a wonderful letter saying, ‘Yeah, we accept. Thank you so much. “”
“And we found out later that it was in his apartment. So this story unfolds,” Brown continued. “No official citation, but, you know, if– if it’s helpful to Pope Francis, it would be really, really satisfying.”
Brown hopes to let anyone who can 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 is imagining what you want, that is to say what is missing, and what you have to do to get there.”