In the modern world, we rely on our gadgets to give us a helping hand.
Now, it's time to give our gadgets a helping foot.
Billed as "The World's Most Compact Electronic Device Stand," Gadget Feet are the invention of Neapolitan Brian Trang. The "feet" are actually two plastic, peel-and-stick kickstands that affix to the underside of a user's portable electronic device, such as a laptop or tablet, and then adjust to five different height elevations.
But what gives the feet their staying power are the three antiskid rubber strips that also come in each $24.99 Gadget Feet package. Like the feet, the strips affix to the underside of the user's electronic device, making it possible for the device to sit and stay upright as it is used.
That means laptops can hang over the edge of a desktop or corner of a counter with ease, Trang says.
"I can rest my back and work comfortable because the angle is lower," he said. "It makes the keyboard lower and closer."
Gadget Feet meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines, Trang said, allowing users to sit back and receive full back support as well as enjoy elbow mobility and keep their wrists flat. Plus, Gadget Feet are lightweight yet sturdy, Trang notes. In a promotional Gadget Feet video, Trang loads a 44-pound weight on top of a laptop computer, and the feet don't flinch.
He even goes so far as to demonstrate how firmly the rubber strips will hold an electronic device in place by putting his laptop on top of a plastic dome and giving it a gentle shake. The laptop doesn't budge.
While most users won't be putting their laptops, tablets or portable DVD players on something as unsteady as a plastic dome to use, Trang knows it's not unlikely that some users might want to use their laptops in other environments where the surface is uneven, such as to type or surf the web while they recline on the sofa.
That's exactly what Naples resident Lisa Roa uses hers to do.
Roa is a customer at TK Nails of Naples, 2314 Pine Ridge Road, the nail salon managed by Trang and his wife, Tonya. Trang displayed the Gadget Feet on a laptop in the salon, and they caught Roa's eye. Ultimately, she bought four sets of the tiny feet.
"You can actually sit back wherever, on your bed, on our sofa and you can position it," she said.
She brings her laptop into the kitchen to look up recipes, she said, and the Gadget Feet make it easy to place the computer where she needs it. The feet also make it easy to watch videos comfortably. She describes the feet as being compact and not bulky, which is also appealing.
"It's awesome," she said. "It's a great invention."
Originally from Vietnam, Trang's background is in the engineering field. In Atlanta, he worked for a construction company as an AutoCAD operator; that company's projects included the Georgia Dome and the Atlanta Olympic Centennial Park. After Sept. 11, the company's workload slowed, and Trang found himself looking for a new job. He, Tonya and their son Kevin moved to Naples in 2003.
It was after he moved to Naples that he hit upon the idea for Gadget Feet.
OSHA recommends that extension ladders be placed at an angle of 75.5 degrees, but there is no device to measure that angle. For 15 years, Trang played with this problem, making it a kind of hobby to develop such a device. Often, inspiration would overtake him as "good ideas kept coming out," he said.
"Everything, I design by laptop," Trang said. "I work for like 13 to 16 hours."
It was during one of these marathon work sessions that disaster struck: Trang's laptop overheated and died.
After that, he put aside the extension ladder safety device project and started working to create another invention, something that would allow airflow beneath his computer, as well as promote a safe and comfortable laptop position. First, he fiddled with existing materials, such as using his business card holder to prop up his computer.
Then, he realized that having something sticky under the computer would help the computer from slipping around as he worked.
Finally, Gadget Feet were finished and, it was time march them out into the world.
It didn't take long for Trang's invention caught the eye of industry insiders. British pitchman Anthony Sullivan — best known as the spokesman for OxiClean and Swivel Sweeper — chose Trang's invention as the official winner of the 2011 Sully's Fast Pitch competition on the Discovery Channel. More recently, Trang took home an honorable mention for Gadget Feet from the seventh Annual DaVinci Inventor Showcase in Colorado.
Gadget Feet have attracted the attention of QVC, too. Trang is finalizing negotiations with QVC to sell Gadget Feet through the home shopping network. Retail giant Best Buy has received a first sample set of Gadget Feet as well, and requested a second set to review, Trang added.
Gadget Feet are currently available in dark gray and black on Trang's website, www.gadgetfeet.com, but he also plans to make them in a wide range of neutral colors as well as an array of bright hues, including red and pink. Trang hopes that someday, Gadget Feet might even become standard issue in all new laptop computers.
For Trang and his family, the fledging success of Gadget Feet is nothing less than a small miracle.
As teenagers, Trang and his wife fled communist Vietnam, almost dying in their attempt. Throughout the Gadget Feet invention process, Tonya worked seven days a week to support the family so he could brainstorm. His son, too, was a great source of support, Trang said.
"This is like American dream for me," he said of Gadget Feet.