Here’s a riddle for you: what’s round, spins, and has barely changed since the dawn of time? If you guessed the wheel (I knew you would), you’re right. Not since the invention of the wired spoke wheel (in the early 1800s) has the wheel seen major innovation. While its materials and aesthetics have been upgraded, its potential for delivering better comfort, safety, and energy-efficiency has hardly been realized.

At SoftWheel, we’re working to change that. We’ve created a wheel that is smarter, more powerful, and more energy efficient than the standard wheel. But before I get into what makes it so unique, some research. 

Perhaps nowhere has innovation in the wheel been needed more than in the wheelchair. For wheelchair riders, sharp vibrations to the seat, heavy impact on the spine and head, and back pain are a daily interference. A wealth of studies prove the negative effects of prolonged vibrations to the body caused by wheelchair riding. A study on the vibration exposure of individuals using wheelchairs over different surfaces found that extended exposure to vibrations from bumps and curbs can lead to back pain, disc degeneration and other harmful injuries. Another study shows that wheelchair propulsion using manual wheelchairs produces vibration loads that exceed international standards, and that vibration could cause fatigue among manual wheelchairs users, which could lead to injury.

One way to suppress some of the vibrations has been to use advanced suspension systems in wheelchairs, but these developments have had limited success. A study testing suspension manual wheelchairs found that on certain surfaces such as high curbs, there was a reduced likelihood that the suspension mechanism would properly compress and dissipate the vibration caused by the impact. Additionally, the suspension elements used in the wheelchairs were generally no match for high-load vibrations.

What makes the SoftWheel unique is that, for the first time ever, the wheel itself has an adaptive suspension mechanism built right into it. The suspension system consists of three shock absorbers that replace the spokes of a standard wheel. Upon encountering bumps, they seamlessly compress to provide a much safer and smoother ride to users. The suspension is adaptive, meaning that it switches between remaining rigid on flat surfaces, for maximum stability, and compressing to absorb impact from bumps, for maximum comfort. And I’m not just talking about going over a few slightly uneven surfaces. SoftWheel can handle a range of obstacles on the road – curbs, stairs, doorsteps, cobblestones, dirt, you name it. All shocks are absorbed by the wheels so they don’t travel to the rest of the wheelchair. This means wheelchair users can ride easy, without worrying about suffering constant vibrations that cause neck and back pain.

I bet you’re thinking, that’s great and all, but you want proof. We conducted a series of tests to back up SoftWheel’s advantages and found that:

Compared to standard premium wheels, SoftWheel absorbs 50% of initial impact
  • When comparing power expenditure over a set track, SoftWheel is 16-25% more energy-efficient than standard wheels
  • SoftWheel can absorb 2.5 times the force per mm of travel, and react and recover twice as fast as any conventional suspension.
A drop test comparing a SoftWheel to a regular wheel shows the effectiveness of the in-wheel suspension. Check it out.

Change is exactly what SoftWheel aims to bring to wheeled mobility. A change – and I mean a major innovation – to the wheel has long been overdue. Our reinvented wheels are transforming wheelchair mobility and accessibility, enabling both active and non-active users to go farther and do more, with more energy, comfort, and safety. As our client Kim confidently told me, “You don’t know what you’re missing until you try it.”

 Want to learn more about SoftWheel and see a demo or try out our wheels? Visit Numotion's online Innovative Lifestyle Product catalog.
Daniel Barel, Guest blogger


Daniel Barel, Guest blogger