'Better' Wheelchair And Bike Wheel Gives Users Jostle-Free Ride Down Stairs, Curbs, And Even Off-Road

By Gabrielle Jonas on May 6, 2014 3:22 PM EDT

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An injured Israeli farmer who found himself painfully jostled about in his wheelchair as he rode over the rows in his field, wondered why his farm equipment didn't do the same thing. He designed a new wheel based on how his farm equipment negotiated his bumpy land, and submitted the drawing to Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator in Tel Aviv, Wired reports. Starting in October, Wheelchair users will be able to retrofit the resulting Acrobat wheel made by SoftWheel onto their wheelchairs for a smoother ride. The SoftWheel company has also applied the technology to a bicycle, with retro-fittable bicycle wheels going into production in 2015, according to Reuters. The cost for the wheelchair wheel will be about $2,000 per pair, about $400 more than the standard high-end set of wheels, and soon, locking the wheel or measuring its speed with a smartphone will be possible, Wired reported.

The Acrobat wheel automatically responds to changes in the terrain. Under standard conditions, the wheels suspension remains static. But when going over a bump or a stair, three compression cylinders in each wheel absorb the shocks that would normally be sent to the rider. The Acrobat wheel has a so-called "selective" suspension mechanism that acts only when the rider encounters an impact above a certain threshold, which riders can set according to their own requirements, readjusting when necessary, according to the SoftWheel website. The wheel's hub, attached to three spokes which are on springs, shifts from the center long enough to provide a cushion that absorbs and lessens the impact, allowing the wheelchair to go over curbs and stairs with ease.  

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Once the rider travels over the obstacle, the hub automatically shifts back to the center of the wheel, and the wheel regains its rigidity and responsiveness. The shift back is smooth and seamless, according to SoftWheel. "It is the wheel that absorbs most of the shock generated by impact rather than the chair or the user's body," according to the Softwheel website.

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