Considering all of the technological advances made in bicycles, cars and trains; the humble wheelchair hasn’t advanced very much since the first one was invented for King Philip II of Spain in 1595. An Israeli startup SoftWheel is about to change that with a bike and wheelchair wheel that is more comfortable and more efficient.When an unfortunate accident left Gilad Woolf with a broken leg and dependent on a wheelchair, the farmer had first hand experience of how uncomfortable wheelchairs can be for the millions of people who rely on them for everyday transportation indoors as well as outdoors.
In fact, this varied terrain is one of the factors contributing to wheelchair discomfort and inefficiency. A wheel designed for the smooth floor inside a house or a public building is completely inappropriate for traveling on a rocky field or bumpy road.
Daniel Barel, the CEO of SoftWheel, told the Jerusalem Post that his company’s new suspension technology is an integral part of the wheel that is selective and symmetric.
It remains static on standard floors or smooth pavements but shifts to an active response mode when the wheel encounters obstacles. The wheel’s hub symmetrically expands or shrinks to absorb the transmitted shock.
This active suspension preserves more of the forward motion energy that would normally be lost as the suspension allows the wheelchair to bob and sag. It also allows the wheelchair to ride over curbs and bumps that might have stopped traditional wheelchairs, giving users better access to places where ramps haven’t yet been installed.
Watch the video to see Softwheel’s “Acrobat” wheel in action:
The new company has financial backing from the RAD BioMed Accelerator group and is in collaboration with the Ziv-Av Engineering group. They are initially designing these wheels for wheelchairs, city bicycles and aircraft landing gear but the company says the technology would be used for other wheeled vehicles.
This is not to be confused with the Israeli designer Ron Arad and his Soft-Wheel invention from 2011. He’s invented, though probably not for commercial reasons, a bike wheel that will never go flat. See below.