"Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary, recently described Softwheel to The Washington Post as "a company that has actually reinvented the wheel.""
Softwheel's Revolutionary Wheelchair Wheels Now Available in the U.S.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Gilad Wolf, an Israeli farmer and inventor, must have had this in mind after being confined to an uncomfortable wheelchair for weeks after breaking his hip five years ago. Determined to keep working, Wolf began working on wheels better suited to off-road applications. He experimented with designs based on suspension mechanisms on the farm equipment he was familiar with, ultimately bringing his concepts to the Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator in Tel Aviv. They helped him to transform his concept sketch into a patent-pending product called SoftWheel.
Softwheel is excited to now be entering the U.S. market, after several years of product development and beta testing.The latest model, Softwheel Acrobat, is now available through distributors such as Resolute Adaptive, Nu Motion, and organizations like Living Spinal, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and The Shepherd Center.
The company, which describes itself as "very veteran-oriented," also recently contacted the US Veterans Administration (VA) to explore opportunities to work together. Human Engineering Research Laboratories, which is funded by the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has tested and approved the Acrobat wheel.
SoftWheel has also partnered with The Independence Fund, a U.S. nonprofit that provides wheelchairs, specialized equipment, and medical care to severely wounded veterans; as well as manufacturer Resolute Adaptive, which will prioritize getting wheels to veterans. The Fund plans on providing wheels to 100 U.S. veterans at no cost to themselves, and will offer a monthly financing plan to buyers.Besides veterans, increased agility and improved energy efficiency also mean the wheels will be popular with lovers of extreme sports and other wheelchair athletes.
Users like Dror Cohen, who lost the use of his legs in a car accident when he was 24 years old. Like a lot of young people, Cohen was into extreme sports like bungee jumping and off-road racing. Unwilling to give up the things he loved, he found a way to return to the activities he used to do, despite his wheelchair. He even took up surfing again, using a special device to keep himself upright and fixed to the surfboard. In 2004, after years of grueling training, he won a gold medal in the sonar sailing class of the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece as a member of the Israeli team.
Not surprisingly, Cohen was approached and is now a Product Specialist for Softwheel, offering feedback and putting new prototypes through the paces. The design group also includes Neil O'Brian, an internationally award-winning competitive cyclist and coach.
So how does it work?
Discarding the standard spoke and rim, the company's latest design features three shock-absorbing struts around a central hub. This radical design change offers a smoother and more energy-efficient ride.Anthony Foxx, US Transportation Secretary, recently described Softwheel to The Washington Post as "a company that has actually reinvented the wheel."
The struts allow the wheels, which can be retrofitted to virtually any standard wheelchair, to behave according to the terrain. On flat surfaces they roll like standard, rigid wheels; but over uneven ground, the suspension mechanism automatically absorbs the shock from the impact, drastically reducing rider stress.
The wheels are also incredibly stable, meaning stairs, curbs and rough road surfaces are easier and safer to navigate.
Users of the new wheel have described the experience as "life-changing."