Although disabled vehicles and wheelchair ramps help eliminate many of the mobility challenges that wheelchair users face, staircases still remain a prominent issue. However, an Israel-based company called SoftWheel has created a new type of wheel technology for both bikes and wheelchairs. This innovative wheel design contains built-in shock absorbers that drastically reduce the impact caused from going down stairs. It’s also great for maneuvering uneven streets and other rough terrain.
Inventor Gilad Wolf first developed this concept four years ago, when a pelvis injury caused him to use a wheelchair for three weeks. “At some point, I thought up the idea of incorporating airbags,” he says. “It’s worked out very nicely.”
The Techology of SoftWheel
SoftWheel’s “Selective Symmetric Suspension Technology” is designed to remain stable on normal floors and other smooth surfaces, but then shift to utilize an active response to overcome obstacles. When users encounter an obstacle, the shock absorbers on the wheel’s hub expand or contract based on the level of shock encountered, maintaining forward motion where the shock would normally slow down the wheelchair.
The “Acrobat” wheel is SoftWheel’s ideal product for wheelchair users. It features the above mentioned selective suspension mechanism that kicks into gear when it detects an impact above a pre-set, but changeable, threshold. This high-tech product can be retrofitted to almost any type of wheelchair.
The Future of SoftWheel
Currently, the SoftWheel technology is designed exclusively for use in wheelchairs, bicycles, and aircraft landing gear, but there are future plans to incorporate this technology into other wheeled vehicles including mass transit, cars and trucks. They even hope to develop product lines that will allow wheelchair users and others with mobility issues to exit their cars without the need for a ramp, which would be a substantial benefit for disabled vehicles.
So why would SoftWheel’s invention be great for cars and trucks? Since the technology is “superior, smaller and lighter” than mainstream tire and suspension systems, there is much less cost associated with maintenance and equipment downtime when it’s broken. The Tel Aviv-based company is considering working initially with smaller vehicle manufacturers that make electric cars.
The SoftWheel technology could help to improve the efficiency of electric cars and make them lighter, which would help increase their battery range, a major issue for consumers who seek to drive long distances in these zero-emissions vehicles. Daniel Barel, CEO of SoftWheel, said it would take as long as 10 years of research and development before being able to enter the automotive industry, but the possibilities of Softwheel’s technology are endless. Maybe they will consider using their wheels in disabled vehicles!
Check out the SoftWheel Acrobat wheels in action!
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