Pioneering intelligent wheelchair receives $1m to transform lives of millions of disabled people
Phoenix Instinct from the UK has been unveiled as the winner of Toyota’s three-year Mobility Unlimited Challenge, receiving $1 million to further develop its ultra-lightweight carbon fibre wheelchair and helping transform millions of lives in the disability community.
Phoenix i was chosen as the Mobility Unlimited Challenge winner due to its easily manoeuvrable frame and smart capabilities, which automatically detects when a user is going downhill and adjusts to manage the descent accordingly.
In partnership with Nesta Challenges, Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the $4 million global challenge back in 2017 in a bid to drive innovation in the field of assistive technologies for people with lower-limb paralysis.
The challenge called for talented engineers, innovators, and designers from around the world to submit their designs for ground-breaking devices, integrated with the latest technologies, to enhance the mobility and independence of users.
Over eighty teams from 28 countries around the world entered the global competition.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) led the assessment of the entries and provided mentorship alongside a team of Toyota subject matter experts and the winner was chosen by a panel of expert judges.
Key specifications for choosing the winning invention included devices that will integrate seamlessly into people’s lives and environments while being comfortable and easy to use, enabling greater independence and increased participation in daily life. The judging criteria was based on innovation, insight and impact, functionality and usability, quality and safety, and market potential and affordability.
Designed by Phoenix Instinct, the Phoenix i uses intelligent systems to automatically adjust its centre of gravity, making the carbon fibre frame extremely stable and easier to manoeuvre. It uses front-wheel power-assist to reduce painful vibrations and minimise strain on the user.
The wheelchair’s intelligent powered braking system automatically detects when the user is going downhill and adjusts to manage the user’s descent.
Andrew Slorance from Phoenix Instinct said: “Winning the Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge is incredible for Phoenix Instinct and for wheelchair users. The wheelchair as we know it has been technologically unchanged for decades.
“The funding we received through the Challenge allowed us to prove smart technology makes for an easier to use and safer wheelchair with the potential for a suite of new features. With the prize money we can now advance this work and bring the Phoenix i wheelchair to the consumer.
“It’s a very exciting time with Toyota moving into the mobility sector, we’re going to see significant advances in mobility devices. At Phoenix Instinct we’re thrilled to be leading the smart wheelchair revolution.”
The four other finalists were:
- The Evowalk: Evolution Devices – a smart wearable simulator that goes below the knee and uses artificial intelligence to support users’ muscles at the right time, aiding in rehabilitating walking and preventing falls for people with foot drop.
- Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion): Team Qolo, University of Tsukuba – a standing mobility device that integrates exoskeleton and wheelchair functions. It supports the function of standing and sitting with a passive assist mechanism for people with lower limb paralysis.
- Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN – a highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility.
- Wheem-i: Italdesign – a wheel-on semi-autonomous electric device that provides ride sharing for wheelchair users. It is primarily designed for micro mobility and is usable on a variety of surfaces.
Ryan Klem, Director of Programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation, commented: “The entire competition has been an enriching journey for us all, bringing together the efforts of many experts, mentors, advocates, and more to invest in the five finalists to develop their devices and bring them into the lives of people that need them.
“We are thrilled to announce Phoenix Instinct as the winner of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. The judges were impressed by the way the device incorporated intelligent systems in its design in a way that represents a true advance for the wheelchair and could see it having a clear route to market.
“TMF is dedicated to continuing to support these passionate teams, and we hope, through this process, that all of the teams are able to find resources to do the same as they have all shown incredible creativity and innovation. We believe this Challenge will result in huge improvements in assistive technology and are extremely proud of what all of the teams have achieved.”
The challenge was developed to highlight the importance of collaboration with users and create inventions with the disability community in mind.
The Toyota Mobility Foundation Challenge $4 million prize pot was given out in grants throughout the competition to support early-stage innovators. Now, the $1 million prize money has been awarded to Phoenix Instinct so that it can develop its innovative wheelchair to help people with lower-limb paralysis worldwide.