A neighborly good turn was the father of invention.
by Jan Schlain
From the November, 2018 issue
"I said to Jeff, 'We should invent something,'" James Ashton-Miller recalls. Ashton-Miller, a U-M research professor in mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, and Jeff Terrell, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon at Michigan Medicine, live two doors apart on Iroquois. Walking their dogs together, they'd noticed that their octogenarian neighbor Charlie Wyse was climbing tall ladders to clean his gutters.
Wyse was still "very capable, keeping up his property," Ashton-Miller says--but it looked to them as though he could use a way to clean his second-story gutters from the ground. "There was no good tool out there," says Terrell, so they invented one. After going through fifty-five iterations, they perfected a leaf blower attachment they call the
"James is an incredible engineer, so he's been handling the design, trouble-shooting, and filling orders," Terrell says. Terrell's been handling the photography, website, and marketing. The Gutter Viper sells for $110 on their website, vipertoolcompany.com, and for $120 on Amazon.
They developed and patented it at their own expense. They've sold only about 300 so far, so the Gutter Viper is not yet profitable--but it's not really about making money.
"We are very passionate about preventing injuries," says Terrell. "I take care of people who fall, and James's work is all about safety."
They've already made things safer for their neighbor. "To keep Charlie on the ground," Terrell says, "we have offered him free gutter cleaning for the rest of his life."
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