These days you might take spring-free trampolines for granted, but just under a decade ago, a spring-free trampoline was quite the innovation. Now its creator, engineer Dr. Keith Alexander, has been rewarded for his efforts by receiving the inaugural University of Canterbury Innovation Medal. Commercialised in 2003, his Springfree trampoline is now sold in 15 countries.
It took 15 years of injury prevention research for Alexander to formulate the design. After numerous prototypes and design trials, Alexander came up with a design that removes areas that cause injury on spring-based trampolines by replacing steel springs with a flexible composite rod system. The design also removes the need for hard edges and the need for padding with its ‘SoftEdge’ mat. Completing the design is a strong net enclosure with flexible enclosure rods to keep jumpers safely on the trampoline.
So how effective has it been in reducing injuries? One estimate states that if all the trampolines in the US were spring-free there would be 34,000 fewer children going to emergency departments each year.
Alexander has “mixed feelings” about receiving his award, because the “innovation and commercialisation processes depend on input from many people, not just the initiator".
But the University of Canterbury’s deputy vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Town, said Alexander is a “very worthy” recipient.
"In the case of the Springfree Trampoline his innovation creates both wealth - selling well in a competitive international market - and beneficial value to the community by cutting down on the number of trampoline injuries.”
In July this year Alexander’s design earned him a Silver International Design Excellence Award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. The win adds to an array of other international awards, including 2010 Product of the Year USA and Canada, 2009 International Design Award Australia and the 2009 Parents' Choice Award, USA.
But the trampoline’s success goes beyond simply design and innovation. It’s a been an employment booster, too. The trampoline rods are made by a Gisborne firm that ships out more than 10 containers of product per year. And while a Chinese company makes the trampolines, it has employed 10 University of Canterbury graduates to help with the improvement of the trampoline’s design and manufacture.
Alexander is busy creating other innovative products, in various stages of commercialisation. These include jet boat steering mechanisms, snow probes, 'nifty lifters' and microhydro plants.
Check out the Idealog story on Alexander below.