Israeli farmer Gilad Wolf broke his pelvis in 2008, but he was determined to make a wheelchair that would allow him to continue farming. His resolution to take his wheelchair off-road, and his re-invention of the wheel, may soon be used by cars, trains, airplane landing gear, and virtually anything that uses a wheel.
The rigid design of a classic wheel becomes even more apparent, and more flawed, on bumpy roads. Most of the time, wheelchair users are "driving a rigid wheel with no suspension and it breaks your back and shakes your filings loose," says SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel. SoftWheel is the name of the patent-pending product that Wolf helped design after experimenting on farm equipment and taking his concepts to Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator in Tel Aviv.
In traditional wheelchair designs, up to half the expended energy is lost because of lack of suspension and only 20-30% of the energy put into the chair goes towards propulsion, Wired reports. SoftWheel addresses this by using three compression cylinders to absorb shocks within the wheel before they're transferred to the rider.
SoftWheel's wheel hub essentially floats "in mid-air while suspending the chair's mass," says Wired. "Practically this means riders can traverse stairs and curbs nearly as easily as gliding down a ramp by allowing the wheels to bear the brunt of the forces. 'Once you've eliminated sagging and bobbing you can work miracles,' says Barel." Barel thinks the design will soon be used everywhere that traditional wheels are.
Daimler, the auto manufacturing company, has invited Barel to speak at their meeting on innovation. Government officials have also taken an interest in this re-invention of the wheel.