For wheelchair users, a rocky road means a bumpy ride. It also means serious fatigue and a whole lot of muscle pain. But new technology is hoping to change all that. Introducing the SoftWheel.
Like many great innovations in accessibility, the SoftWheel was conceptualized by a wheelchair user. In 2008, Israeli farmer Gilad Wolf broke his pelvis. He was determined to continue to tend to his farm, but dreaded taking his wheelchair through the rows of his fields. The ride was bumpy, uncomfortable and painful. He experimented with different designs to suit his off-road needs, and took his concept to Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator in Tel Aviv. They turned those designs into the SoftWheel.
So what is it? Well, one thing it isn’t is new, per se. There are no scientific breakthroughs featured in this wheel — just common pieces arranged differently. But that new arrangement has a serious impact. From Wired:
In traditional wheelchair designs up to 30% of expended energy is lost because they lack suspension, leaving only 70-80% of the energy put into the chair for propulsion. This creates uncomfortable rides and fatigued drivers. “Most of the time, the user is driving a rigid wheel with no suspension and it breaks your back and shakes your filings loose,” says SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel.
SoftWheel addresses this problem with their “symmetric and selective technology,” that uses three compression cylinders to absorb shocks within the wheel before they’re transferred to rider. The goal is to make the wheel’s hub essentially float in mid-air while suspending the chair’s mass. Practically this means riders can traverse stairs and curbs nearly as easily as gliding down a ramp by allowing the wheels to bear the brunt of the forces. “Once you’ve eliminated sagging and bobbing you can work miracles,” says Barel.
Pretty cool, huh? And it’s not just for wheelchairs. SoftWheel is in contact with automaker Daimler, and is also being used on bicycles.
Want a set of SoftWheels for your chair? They can be retrofitted to any frame, and will be available for purchase at the end of 2014. But, like all innovations, they aren’t cheap — starting price is $2,000 for the pair. Check out the video below to see the wheels in action.
We want to hear from you! What do you think of the SoftWheels? Would you use them? How?