the SoftWheel wheelchair
If yesterday's Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair had all the dignity of a chair, the chair of the Soft Wheel wheelchair is near-invisible. It was developed (through Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economics) by a fit Israeli farmer who had broken his pelvis and was shocked by the state of ordinary wheelchairs on off-road terrain.
There is nothing faintly humanitarian in this project, it is pure technology, this wheel, and about time too. The Acrobat™ wheel used in the Soft Wheel project, uses three shock absorbers rather than spokes and is also being used in bikes. Until the wheel meets an obstacle, such as a stair, or curb, or pothole, it acts as a normal wheel, but on encountering a large and immoveable change of grade, the shock absorbers reconfigure their lengths in a form of selective suspension. The wheel itself absorbs impact, rather than the chair or the body. I sense it will be expensive.
Grand idea, what is interesting is the invisibility of the 'wheelchair' in all the promotional material; if there are handles at the back they don't appear. The wheels alone are obvious, as substitute legs. This is blade runner stuff where there is almost an advantage to prosthetic technology over the able-bodied, a shift in perception that was brought to the fore in the London Paralympics in 2012. Disability is increasingly (theoretically) an anachronism.
It is at either end of the wheelchair trajectory – one end is the plastic garden chair, the other is the Acrobat™ wheel – that exciting developments occur, each filtering in towards the middle, or so one hopes.