April 23 - An Israeli company has developed a technology that allows wheelchairs and bicycles to travel more comfortably over bumps and down stairs. Softwheel says its 'symmetrical selective in-wheel suspension' system is designed to absorb the impact of obstacles in the road, and could be adapted to suit any vehicle with wheels. Jim Drury reports.
The Acrobat wheel employs a unique suspension system designed to make life easier for the wheelchair-bound. Comprising a three-pronged, moving, suspension system located between the wheel rim and hub, the technology absorbs the impact of curbs and stairs, allowing a smoother ride and a wider range of travel options. Softwheel's product specialist Dror Cohen uses the Acrobat on his own wheelchair. SOUNDBITE (English) SOFTWHEEL PRODUCT SPECIALIST DROR COHEN SAYING: "Where I want to go I just go, and if I want to go down a sidewalk to get to the other side of the road I just go down and it's a very new sensation, I don't get the impact that I usually get while not riding with these wheels." The wheel's hub shifts automatically when encountering an obstruction, by expanding or retracting the wheel's three spokes, which take most of the impact, says CEO Daniel Barel. SOUNDBITE (English) SOFTWHEEL CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER DANIEL BAREL SAYING: "This is the mechanism which is connected to the rim. This is the hub, it usually sits in the centre of the wheel, as the hub usually does, but when it encounters an obstacle, the hub shifts, the arms know how to change their position and make the hub shift inside of the rim that surrounds the mechanism, allowing it to absorb all the energy, from the obstacle and within fractions of a second it regains its rigidness by shifting back to its centre position." Computerised analysis of high-speed video imagery of the wheels in action produced what Cohen and Barel believe is the optimal design. The firm has also adapted its unique 'symmetrical selective in-wheel suspension' system to create a similar product for cyclists. It's called 'Fluent' - and cyclist Neil O'Brian helped with the testing process. UPSOT: BIKE SOUNDBITE (English) SOFTWHEEL PRODUCT SPECIALIST NEIL O'BRIAN SAYING: "This makes it easy, it takes the stress and strain out of picking a line, through busy traffic, or up and down curbs." Both the Fluent and Acrobat systems can be retro-fitted to suit existing wheelchair and bicycle models. The company says Acrobat will go on sale this year, while production of Fluent should start in 2015.