Phoenix Instinct AI Powered Smart Wheelchair Wins Toyota Mobility Challenge
Author: Toyota Mobility Foundation - Contact: toyotamobilityfoundation.org
Published: 2021/01/20 - Updated: 2023/10/05
Peer-Reviewed: Yes - Publication Type: Product Release / Update
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Synopsis: Toyota Mobility Foundation, in partnership with Nesta Challenges, announces the winner of $4 million global Mobility Unlimited Challenge in virtual event. Winning the Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge is incredible for Phoenix Instinct and for wheelchair users. Around the world, millions of people are living with lower-limb paralysis (the most common causes being strokes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis).
The Toyota Mobility Foundation winner's announcement is a culmination of the three-year Mobility Unlimited Challenge which saw innovators from around the world submit game-changing technologies to improve the lives of people with lower limb paralysis.
Finalists included teams from the United States, Japan, Italy, and the United Kingdom, with devices ranging from a hybrid exoskeleton on wheels to a fleet of semi-autonomous electric devices to assist manual wheelchair users when traveling. The Challenge is part of Toyota Mobility Foundation's support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and relates to Goal #10 to reduce inequalities and commitment to Mobility for All.
The winner of the three-year Mobility Unlimited Challenge has now been announced with Phoenix Instinct from the UK receiving $1 million to further develop their intelligent ultra-light carbon fibre wheelchair, bring it to market, and ultimately, transform millions of lives in the disability community for the greater good.
The Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the $4 million global challenge back in 2017 in partnership with Nesta Challenges, in a bid to drive innovation in the field of assistive technologies for people with lower-limb paralysis in a demonstration of Toyota's mission of Mobility for all and further vision of producing happiness for all.
The Challenge called for talented engineers, innovators, and designers from around the world to submit their designs for groundbreaking devices, integrated with the latest technologies, to enhance the mobility and independence of end users. Over eighty teams from 28 countries around the world entered.
The University of Pittsburgh's Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) led the assessment of the entries and provided mentorship alongside a team of Toyota subject matter experts, and the winner was chosen by a panel of expert judges.
Designed by Phoenix Instinct, the Phoenix i uses intelligent systems to automatically adjust its centre of gravity, making the ultra-lightweight carbon fibre frame extremely stable and easier to maneuver. It uses front-wheel power-assist to reduce painful vibrations and minimize strain on the user. The chair's intelligent powered braking system automatically detects when the user is going downhill and adjusts to manage the user's descent.
Andrew Slorance from Phoenix Instinct said:
"Winning the Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge is incredible for Phoenix Instinct and for wheelchair users. The wheelchair as we know it has been technologically unchanged for decades. The funding we received through the Challenge allowed us to prove smart technology makes for an easier to use and safer wheelchair with the potential for a suite of new features. With the prize money we can now advance this work and bring the Phoenix i wheelchair to the consumer."
"It's a very exciting time with Toyota moving into the mobility sector, we're going to see significant advances in mobility devices. At Phoenix Instinct we're thrilled to be leading the smart wheelchair revolution."
Sir Philip Craven, member of the Board of Directors at Toyota Motor Corporation and former President of the International Paralympic Committee shared:
"Mobility means freedom. It means liberation from being limited in life. As we believe at Toyota, when we are free to move, we are able to fully participate in society, and I'm excited for each of these devices supported by the Mobility Unlimited Challenge, particularly the winning device, because of how it will allow so many people to better do what they want to do."
Ryan Klem, Director of Programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation commented:
"The entire competition has been an enriching journey for us all, bringing together the efforts of many experts, mentors, advocates, and more to invest in the five finalists to develop their devices and bring them into the lives of people that need them. We are thrilled to announce Phoenix Instinct as the winner of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The judges were impressed by the way the device incorporated intelligent systems in its design in a way that represents a true advance for the wheelchair and could see it having a clear route to market. TMF is dedicated to continuing to support these passionate teams, and we hope, through this process, that all of the teams are able to find resources to do the same as they have all shown incredible creativity and innovation. We believe this Challenge will result in huge improvements in assistive technology and are extremely proud of what all of the teams have achieved."
Liz Vossen of Nesta Challenges said:
"For too long, the disability community has faced restricted mobility and accessibility. The coronavirus pandemic has forced a change in attitudes towards remote working, showing that it is possible to be present and productive at home. However, the pandemic also highlighted the need for non-disabled people to have a better understanding of the importance of mobility for all. We hope that these devices will improve the mobility of people across the world and contribute to a more inclusive future."
Other Finalists Were:
- The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States) - a smart wearable muscle stimulator that goes right below the knee and uses artificial intelligence to support your muscles at the right time aiding in rehabilitating walking and preventing falls for people with foot drop.
- Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion): Team Qolo, University of Tsukuba (Japan) - a standing mobility device that integrates exoskeleton and wheelchair functions. It supports the function of standing and sitting with a passive assist mechanism for people with lower limb paralysis.
- Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States) - a highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility.
- Wheem-i: Italdesign (Italy) - a wheel-on semi autonomous electric device that provides ride sharing for wheelchair users. It is primarily designed for micro mobility and is usable on a variety of surfaces.
At its core, the Challenge was developed to highlight the importance of collaboration with end-users and create inventions with the disability community in mind. It supports the UN's Sustainable Development goals, specifically Goal #10 of reducing inequalities in supporting devices that help people with paralysis better access society for economic, social, educational and other opportunities. Key specifications for choosing the winning invention included devices that will integrate seamlessly into people's lives and environments while being comfortable and easy to use, enabling greater independence and increased participation in daily life. The judging criteria was based on innovation, insight and impact, functionality and usability, quality and safety, and market potential and affordability.
Around the world, millions of people are living with lower-limb paralysis (the most common causes being strokes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis). While there are no statistics on paralysis worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates there are 250,000-500,000 new cases of spinal cord injury globally every year.
Details of Finalist Devices and Quotes:
The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States)
The EvoWalk is a smart wearable leg sleeve that helps people with partial lower limb paralysis regain their mobility. The EvoWalk AI system uses sensors to predict the user's walking motion and stimulates the right muscles at the right time to help them walk better. This personalized, timed muscle stimulation that helps user's contract their muscles as they walk will not only help them day to day but will also rehabilitate the muscles and neural pathways over time.
Pierluigi Mantovani from Evolution Devices said:
"The Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge has been life-changing. Going from discovery awardees to becoming one of the five finalists in the Challenge was motivating for our team to pursue our vision for the future of mobility with the EvoWalk technology. This challenge has helped us reach the final steps towards finalizing our innovative & accessible technology, and has helped four other extremely innovative teams progress their technology to assist and enhance mobility for all. We are extremely grateful to have been a part of this journey, and will continue to work hard towards creating accessible technologies for everyone who is counting on us!"
QOLO (Quality of Life with Locomotion): Team QOLO, University Of Tsukuba (Japan)
The Qolo Standing Device consists of a lightweight, mobile exoskeleton on wheels which uses passive actuators to allow users to sit or stand, effectively removing the 'chair' from 'wheelchair'. Mobility is controlled using the upper body, allowing hands-free operation. The device enables users to travel around in a standing position, changing both physiological and social aspects of everyday living.
Kenji Suzuki from Team Qolo said:
"Innovation is the result of team effort, and we will continue to widen our possibilities thanks to the impulse given by the MUC."
QUIX: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States)
A robotic, powered exoskeleton with motors at the hips, knees and ankles, as well as additional actuators offering someone with lower-limb paralysis fast, stable, and agile upright mobility. Utilizing modular actuation, perception technology from autonomous vehicles, and control algorithms for balancing autonomous humanoid robots, this device will deliver the mobility, safety, and independence that current exoskeletons cannot. The device will improve accessibility in society - especially at home and work.
Robert Griffin on behalf of IHMC & MYOLYN said:
"The Mobility Unlimited Challenge was an exceptional competition with some of the most talented teams in the world. We support the judge's decision and wish the winner the best of luck. This is not the end for Quix -- IHMC and MYOLYN will continue developing powered exoskeleton technology to empower people to move. We are grateful to Nesta for their excellent management of the Challenge, and we are especially grateful to the Toyota Mobility Foundation for recognizing that more attention and funding is needed to help millions of people with lower-limb paralysis move more freely and easily."
WHEEM-I: ITALDESIGN (Italy)
Wheem-i is the first mobility service created for wheelchair users. It's the cycle share scheme equivalent for wheelchair users. Consisting of a series of wheel-on electric devices, located in urban hubs, it will make travelling around cities much simpler and easier for people with lightweight manual wheelchairs. Connected via an app, it will enable users to interact with the device, other wheelchair users and other means of transport.
Christian Bolognesi from Italdesign said:
"We are grateful to the Toyota Mobility Foundation for choosing our project and giving us the chance to fully develop it until the running prototype phase. We had the chance to talk to a lot of different people to explore a field full of possibilities. Our commitment won't stop with the end of this competition and we're still open to further develop the WheeM-i as soon as we meet the right partner and hopefully, Wheem-I will become a daily solution for the cities."
Mobility Unlimited Challenge Judging Panel:
Professor Linamara Battistella, Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine doctor at the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
"I believe the Mobility Unlimited Challenge was an opportunity to foster technological development thinking about the future of assistive technology, not only its current context. Devices delivered thus far and the award are not the end of the Challenge. We are assisting in building an innovation ecosystem that is truly supportive of human functioning. I am sure the assistive technology community will be able to benefit from the products and services that are the major outputs of the Challenge, but would also like to see the spillover effects of all the technological progress the teams made during the past three years in other areas, such as manufacturing techniques and e-health strategies."
Winfried Beigel, Director of Research and Development for Otto Bock Mobility Solutions (Germany)
"It is a great honour to participate as a judge for the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The huge variety of different professions within the judging team led to controversy and interesting discussions and in my opinion finally to a fair decision. The challenge with all its different inventions, having been evaluated, shows pretty well how much passion is out there to make a difference in the life of people with spinal cord injury, once there is a chance to get support for becoming a catalyst to set the scene for the next level."
Dr. Kay Kim, President of NT Robot Co (South Korea)
"Congratulations to the winning team in the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. I believe that the innovation and technology that the teams have been developing, realizing and showing to us for the last two years were all initiated from their own valuable experiences and aspiration to change disability into more opportunities. I hope more people with disabilities will get the benefits and enjoy comfortably with their innovative ideas. Lastly, I hope all the teams will make great progress with their businesses."
Dr. Eric Krotkov, Chief Science Officer at Toyota Research Institute (United States)
"The Mobility Unlimited Challenge stimulated an unprecedented variety of novel mobility approaches, including wheelchairs, exoskeletons, electrical stimulators, and micro-mobility services. Each of the teams used a co-creation process that brought together developers and users; this human-centered approach will ensure the usability of the technologies. I look forward to the contributions each of the finalists will make to mobility for all."
Eric LeGrand, disability rights advocate (United States)
"To be able to contribute to this incredible convention of innovation on behalf of the spinal cord injury community has been such a rewarding experience and I'm excited about all of the projects we had the benefit of learning more about. Working with creative minds from all over the world, helping people like myself who are living with disabilities to become more independent, fills me with optimism for the future."
Ruth Peachment, Occupational Therapy Clinical Specialist at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (United Kingdom)
"Working as a Judge on the Mobility Unlimited Challenge has been a hugely exciting and rewarding experience. It has provided me with the opportunity to work alongside some amazing people, including fellow judges, the fantastic teams from both Nesta Challenges and Toyota Mobility Foundation, as well as the hard-working and committed Challenge teams and applicants. I have been so impressed by the variety, complexity and level of innovation with all of the submissions, and I hope to see all of the entrants take their designs into production in the future, so that everyone gets to benefit from these products."
- Sophie Morgan, television presenter and disability advocate (United Kingdom)
- Matthew Reeve, Director of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation (United States)
- Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, President of robotics company Cyberdyne (Japan)
- Dr. Lloyd Walker, professional rehabilitation engineer at Tech4Life (Australia)
- Dr. Mary Ellen Buning, President-elect for the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (United States)
Mobility Unlimited Challenge Prize
The Challenge prize is a tried and tested method for supporting innovation. It offers a reward to whoever can first or most effectively meet a defined challenge. Challenge prizes are effective tools for:
- Raising awareness.
- Creating new markets.
- Overcoming market failure.
- Spurring and supporting innovative solutions.
- Widening the pool of innovators, prompting collaboration.
How the $4 million Was Used
The Toyota Mobility Foundation Challenge $4m prize pot was used as follows:
- Discovery Awards - 10 awards of $50,000 (combined total: $500,000). Means-tested grants to support small, early stage innovators to enter the Challenge. Awarded April 2018.
- Finalist Grants - five awards of $500,000 (combined total: $2,500,000) - Grants given to five finalists to spend during the Finalist Stage to develop their prototype device. Awarded January 2019.
- Winner's Award - one award of $1M - Grant awarded to the finalist whose prototype device best meets the challenge statement, demonstrating how it meets the judging criteria. Awarded December 2020.
What Happened Over the Three Years of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge?
The Mobility Unlimited Challenge reached out to people with lower-limb paralysis. The Challenge required collaboration and co-creation, so that people with lower-limb paralysis could engage with and shape the mobility solutions of the future.
This isn't just about the one winner - the five finalists each recieved $500,000 to take their ideas even closer to reality, meaning the prize has the potential to launch five concepts into the public realm.
The Challenge was open and transparent. All entrants keep their Intellectual Property. This is about making solutions happen, with the aim of making new products that support people with lower-limb paralysis available to use.
Toyota Mobility Foundation
The Toyota Mobility Foundation was established in 2014 to support the development of a more mobile society. The Foundation aims to support strong mobility systems while eliminating disparities in mobility. It utilizes Toyota's expertise in technology, safety, and the environment, working in partnership with universities, government, non-profit organizations, research institutions and other organizations to address mobility issues around the world.
Programs include resolving transportation problems, expanding the utilization of personal mobility, and developing solutions for next generation mobility.
Across the world, there are many people and communities that are overlooked and underserved, facing ever more complex challenges. Nesta Challenges tackles some of these problems by harnessing and fostering innovation, fresh thinking and technology to achieve positive impact. From health to conservation, finance to agriculture, assistive technology to education, we connect people, businesses and experts to drive fresh thinking and deliver systemic change. Nesta Challenges uses prizes to stimulate innovative solutions to some of the biggest challenges we face, including:
- The Longitude Prize, created to tackle growing levels of antimicrobial resistance and reduce the use of antibiotics.
- The Inclusive Technology Prize, a challenge prize to encourage innovations that gives disabled people equal access to life's opportunities.
- The UNDP's Renewable Energy Challenge Prize, to find a renewable energy solution capable of providing off-grid power to cover the needs of war-returnee families in rural Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- The Dynamic Demand Challenge Prize, created to reduce carbon emissions by shifting energy demand to off peak times or through excess renewable generation.
Toyota's Contribution to Mobility
Toyota is a world leader in re-imagining mobility. Toyota has already collaborated with a number of experts - sharing their knowledge and expertise and applying robotics to assist people with limited mobility. This has included projects such as:
- e-Palette: A new mobility service for everyone. A next-generation battery electric vehicle developed specifically for "Mobility as a Service", which applies technologies like electrification and connected and automated driving. e-Palette provides services such as transportation and commerce to support customers' lives.
- T-HR3: Responsive and remote-controlled robotics. Designed to mimic the soft touches of human movement, T-HR3 helps expand people's mobility in their own home or workers' abilities and safety in the workplace.
- Walking Area BEV Family: Lighten the load of the last mile. The stylish and eco-friendly Walking Area BEV is designed to help passengers move quickly around a city for that "last mile" of their commute. Toyota will provide its standing-type personal mobility devices for use by security and medical staff centered around and within the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 venues.
- APM (Accessible People Mover): Adapting to your mobility. APM is a mobility vehicle designed expressly for use at the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. With the vision of "Mobility for All," APM offers a "one-last-mile" solution that helps transport as many people as possible to events and venues, including athletes and staff related to the Games as well as all types of visitors.
The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) has been at the forefront of assistive technology research for 25 years.
A collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, and the UPMC Health System, HERL is dedicated to wheelchair and mobility research, specifically by improving the mobility and function of Veterans and all people with disabilities through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation on local, national, and international levels.
Using state-of-the-art laboratories and research instruments, HERL also studies robotics in assistive technology, athletics in rehabilitation, assistive living spaces, wheelchair transfer efficiency, clinician training, and force and vibration on wheelchair users.
This peer reviewed article relating to our Disability Press Releases section was selected for publishing by the editors of Disabled World due to its likely interest to our disability community readers. Though the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or length, the article "Phoenix Instinct AI Powered Smart Wheelchair Wins Toyota Mobility Challenge" was originally written by Toyota Mobility Foundation, and published by Disabled-World.com on 2021/01/20 (Updated: 2023/10/05). Should you require further information or clarification, Toyota Mobility Foundation can be contacted at toyotamobilityfoundation.org. Disabled World makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith.
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