The wheel reinvented: SoftWheel’s shock-absorbing technology
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Photo Credit: SoftWheel

SoftWheel is making the ride smoother for wheelchair-bound veterans and has plans for cranes, cars, and bikes

When told not to reinvent the wheel, SoftWheel didn’t listen. The Israeli startup has developed wheel technology that lets wheelchairs conquer rocky terrains, descend curbs, and even go down stairs. Recently, they’ve moved forward with a mission: to make life easier for severely wounded veterans. SoftWheel has partnered with The Independence Fund, a nonprofit that provides high-tech care to veterans, and manufacturer Resolute Adaptive to bring its product to veterans for free.

Selective suspension technology

What’s special about the wheel is its selective suspension technology: “Selective, meaning that as long as you don’t need [the technology], it will work as any other wheel,” SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel explained to Geektime.

SoftWheel is designed so that the hub of the wheel “floats” in midair, suspending the chair and its rider from the road. It takes a certain threshold of impact — for instance, a bumpy road or flight of stairs — for the selective suspension mechanism to activate. Once it does, the hub of the wheel moves from its place to cushion the shock. The wheel, rather than the vehicle or rider’s body, takes the greatest hit and absorbs most of the energy.

Not only does the suspension make the ride more comfortable for the rider, but also more energy-efficient. According to Barel, typical wheelchairs that are not suspended lose over 30% of the energy used to move forward. Instead of starting and stopping so often in the face of obstacles, SoftWheel moves more fluidly.

Though a different physical model, Loopwheels is a comparable company that has developed in-wheel suspension technology for smoother wheelchairs. Most other obstacle-facing wheelchairs seem to be more interesting than practical, such as the stair-climbing B-Free wheelchair and bulky Scalevo.

An estimated 1% of the world — more than 65 million people — is confined to a wheelchair. Beyond those changing the technological landscape of wheelchairs, entrepreneurs have shown a general interest in technology for people with disabilities, as expressed in hackathons like this year’s Tikkun Olam Makeathon.

Down the road

SoftWheel, which has raised an undisclosed amount of funding so far, plans on sticking with what they know best: wheels. They see upcoming opportunities far beyond wheelchairs, too.

Barel told Geektime, “We create technology that applies to anything that has a wheel.”

SoftWheel, a startup founded in 2011 by Gilad Wolf — an Israeli farmer who broke his pelvis, was confined to a wheelchair, and pitched the idea of a smoother riding wheelchair to the Rad Biomed Incubator — is in the process of applying its technology to cranes, electric cars, and bicycles. Their expansion into urban mobility means conserving more energy across the board, as well as reaching a wider consumer market. The $64 billion bicycle market alone is significantly larger than the $4 billion wheelchair market.

It will take time for SoftWheel to penetrate these markets, but the startup is rolling forward.

Featured Image Credit: SoftWheel

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Jenna Shapiro

About Jenna Shapiro

Jenna is a summer Geektime reporter and editor, and a student at Stanford University. She has a penchant for cool ideas and slightly crazy people, perhaps evident in her move from the Silicon Valley to Tel Aviv. As an English major who finds herself in tech hubs, she aims to change the world through tech and Steinbeck.

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