This article was published on August 25, 2021

Next-gen wheelchairs are modular and shapeshifting

Next-generation wheelchairs are pushing the boundaries of mobility

Next-gen wheelchairs are modular and shapeshifting
Cate Lawrence
Story by

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.

Wheelchairs provide valuable independence to their owners. Designs vary according to the terrain and user needs. Both of these can change over time. However, their price makes it difficult to afford more than one chair.  In response, designers are taking cues from bikes and robotics to make wheelchairs that adapt to the varied user needs.

The UNAwheel Maxi device is a wheelchair add-on. It hooks onto the front of an existing chair and is compatible with basic and active wheelchairs without adding extra weight. It comes with button steering to accelerate, decelerate, and turn.

The steering section is made of a combination of metal (hydroforming/cutting technology) and plastic (injection molding), the handles are made of rubber, and the main body of plastic (RIM). It is easy to operate and can be easily and quickly attached to and detached from the wheelchair. 

The UNAwheel Maxi in action
The UNAwheel Maxi bring added functionality to conventional wheelchairs

The device comes with a rechargeable battery and can run up to 30 kilometers on a charge. It can accelerate up to 20 kilometers an hour. It’s a great option for changes in terrain and uphill commutes. 

 It’s perfect for people who can’t maneuver wheelchairs, or have to deal with terrain and uphill commutes. When you don’t need it, the UNA wheel simply detaches from the wheelchair, turning it into a hand-operatedvehicle once again.

A gamechanger for flying with a wheelchair

Swimmer Patrick Flanagan recently had his wheelchair damaged during transit to the Toyko Paralympics. It’s a common problem. 

Startup Revolve Air has a solution. The company is making the first standard wheelchair certifiable as carry-on luggage by airlines. It folds up to a third of its size and removes the need to check in a wheelchair hours before a flight and wait for it in the luggage carousel at your arrival. The company plans to launch a pilot in 2022. They believe that users could easily hire the chairs via an app in the future.

A new kind of wheels come to micromobility

It’s not only designers improving wheelchairs. Folks with disabilities are limited if they want to hire an adapted bike or mobility scooter. But not anymore. In July Bird teamed up with Scootaround to pilot a first-of-its-kind accessible mobility program. Folks with disabilities can choose from three accessible vehicle types using the Bird app.

Long term, this could set a powerful precedent for inclusion in mobility, especially for temporary users, and be a gamechanger for wheelchair users. 

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