Anyone who uses a wheelchair to navigate their city is all too familiar with the irritating background cacophony of knocks, bumps and shocks as the chair judders its way across the landscape of uneven paving slabs, steps and kerbs. All this could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a revolutionary new design which claims to give wheelchair users a much smoother ride. The wheelchair incorporates a specially designed wheel with built-in shock-absorbing compression cylinders which gives the user the feeling that they’re floating on air.
The invention is the creation of Gilad Wolf, an Israeli farmer who spent several months attempting to do his job in a wheelchair after breaking his leg left him immobile. Gilad experimented with various solutions using farm equipment and eventually came up with, ‘SoftWheel’. SoftWheel is a high-performance wheel design which has three compression cylinders, rather than the usual spokes. This effectively incorporates suspension into the wheel’s structure so that when the chair hits an obstacle, the wheel hub actually moves to absorb any impact.
The result is a chair that actually ‘floats’ as if it were suspended in mid-air! The technology doesn’t just put suspension inside the wheel, but makes it selective and symmetric and that’s the game changer, according to SoftWheel CEO, Daniel Barel.
The selective suspension mechanism works by causing the shock-absorbers to kick in once an impact over a certain threshold is encountered. This threshold can be adjusted by the user depending upon what kind of terrain they are crossing and how responsive they desire the wheel to be. Traditional wheelchair designs lose 30% of the energy invested by the user because of the lack of suspension and this leads to bumpy rides and tired users. If you’re driving a rigid wheel without suspension, it jars the back and is very uncomfortable, Barel explained.
The manufacturers claim that SoftWheel creates a seamlessly smooth ride which makes even going down a flight of stairs as easy as gliding down a ramp. And there’s no reason to stop at wheelchairs, say the designers. By means of simple ‘plug and play’ fixings, the wheels can be used for bicycles and even aircraft landing gear.