Staircases are one of the biggest mobility challenges faced by the severely disabled, particularly those who use a wheelchair. Here in the U.S. the Americans with Disabilities Act recognizes this to such an extent that accessibility ramps are required for businesses by law. Ramps, while far from a perfect solution, have been a necessity for wheelchair users to gain access to and mobility within homes and businesses.
This may now be changing.
A new technology from the Israel-based SoftWheel company will overcome this long-running obstacle, says CEO Daniel Bar-El. The technology consists of a new type of wheel, which has built-in shock absorbers that reduce and can essentially eliminate the impact from dropping down stairs, traversing uneven streets, sidewalks. boardwalks, and rough terrain. In addition, the internal mechanism of the technology vastly improves maneuverability of the chair.
The device was first conceived four years ago, when inventor Gilad Wolf suffered a major hip injury after a fall. He was forced to use a wheelchair for three weeks to get around. “At some point,” he says, “I thought up the idea of incorporating airbags. It’s worked out very nicely.”
The SoftWheel technology is designed so that it remains stable on normal floors and other smooth surfaces, but shifts to utilize an active response technology to overcome obstacles, wherein the shock absorbers on the wheel hub expand or contract based on the level of shock encountered, maintaining forward motion where the shock would normally slow down the chair. The shock absorbers also allow the vehicle to bob similar to shocks and struts in an automobile.
Currently, the technology is designed only for use in wheelchairs, bicycles, and landing gear for aircraft, but in the future there are plans to implement the technology in other wheeled vehicles and to even develop product lines that will allow wheelchair users and others with mobility issues to exit their cars without the need for a ramp.
The device is currently being rolled into the market, and the company has received the backing of the Rad BioMed Accelerator group in collaboration with the Ziv-Av Engineering group, allowing for widespread distribution.
It’s an exciting prospect! Since the first wheelchair was invented for King Philip II of Spain in 1595, the need for ramps to achieve mobility for wheelchair users is going to see significant reduction—who would have thought that, one day, curbs and stairs would present no problem for people confined to wheelchairs? The video shows how these amazing wheels work going down stairs. No word on the product’s performance going up stairs. Still, these wheels are a giant leap forward. Is this a “wheel” good idea? Let us know!