Car seats are crucial for the safety of children traveling in automobiles. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, proper use of car seats decreases mortality by 71% in children younger than one year and by 54% in children one to four years of age. Getting a child into a car seat can be difficult sometimes, but getting them out shouldn’t really be a problem, should it?
Actually many people do have difficulty releasing the button on the car seat. U.S. motor vehicle safety regulations require these buckles to have a minimum release force of nine pounds to prevent children from unbuckling themselves during travel. While this is a logical requirement, anyone with arthritis can encounter a serious struggle trying to release the buckle. Barbara Heilman became a grandmother in 2015 when her daughter, Becca Davison gave birth to a baby girl, and was excited about caring for her new granddaughter when Becca went back to work. But she soon encountered great difficulty in releasing the seat belt buckle due to arthritis in her thumb. Shopping for a different seat was unsuccessful, since all of them are subject to the safety requirements for buckle release. Barbara was concerned about whether she would be able to release her granddaughter from the car seat, particularly in an emergency situation, and she was reluctant to take her anywhere by car. Obviously this would limit the activities she could do with her granddaughter, particularly as she grew older and more active.
As a Licensed Occupational Therapist, Barbara had experience adapting equipment for use by patients with hand and finger difficulties, and she started working on a solution. Using thermoplastic material commonly used in making splints, she created a tool designed to reduce the amount of force needed to release the car seat buckle.
Becca had earned an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business, and was working in the corporate world. In the back of her mind, however, she had thought about being an entrepreneur and starting her own business. Speaking with Marc S. Moriosi ofon May 9, 2019, she admitted that she never felt she had a strong enough business idea and so remained in the corporate world. When she saw the tool her mother had created, however, she had that “aha moment.” Barbara had created and saved over 100 prototypes and she and Becca spent six months working with engineers to create the computer-aided design necessary for manufacturing. Finally having an acceptable prototype in hand, they filed for patents in 2016. The utility and design patents were granted in early 2019.
Attending the ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas in October, 2016, UnbuckleMe received outstanding feedback on the early prototype, and in 2017 a Kickstarter campaign exceeded its original goal, raising $12,844 from 343 backers. With increasing commitment to educating parents and promoting child safety, in 2018 Becca became certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST).
By 2019, UnbuckleMe was being sold in numerous retail outlets, on Amazon and through social media. Nordstroms invited them to their annual Gear Summit in Seattle in June and they attended the National Child Passenger Safety Conference in August. On October 19, 2019, UnbuckleMe announced they had reached 768 Amazon reviews with a solid 5 star average, and later that month gained their first corporate sponsorship from AAA of Texas. Inventors Digest featured UnbuckleMe in a December 22nd article entitled “Frustration Unlatched,” in which Reid Creager reported that the device also works well on strollers and high chairs (as well as protecting those long fingernails or expensive manicure!)
UnbuckleMe decreases the force necessary for unbuckling by about 50%. It is manufactured in the US, has been tested and passed for lead content and is BPA free. UnbuckleMe can be purchased through the website, on Amazon, at major retail stores such as Nordstroms and buybuyBaby, and hundreds of independent shops throughout Canada and the United States.