Light weight, beautifully styled and ergonomic – wheelchair design continues to evolve
Light weight, beautifully styled and ergonomic – wheelchair design continues to evolve
When you think of a wheelchair, you don’t necessarily consider it a high-tech assistive technology that is super trendy. In the past, the device wasalsoheavy, over-sized,and difficult to transport. All that has changed, thanks to both innovative startups and well-known industry giants. REHACARE.com wanted to find out how manufacturers still find ways to continuously improve the mobility aidand learned about trends in the process.
La dolce vita is an Italian attitude to life and you can see that in Pandhora's products. The start-up wants to shake up the assistive devices market with innovative ideas and a typically Italian flair for design.
When someone mentions assistive technology, odds are you think of a wheelchair. Perhaps no other resource is a better internationally accepted symbol for disability. While there are many manufacturers with years of experience in wheelchair design and production, there are always startups looking to make their mark in the sector despite mounting competitive pressure. That is partly because the latter are still buzzing with innovative ideas to improve the mobility aid.
The perfect comfort level in any setting
Lightweight wheelchairs can look frumpy and outdated at times. But even if you are not fully dependent on a wheelchair, you have a right to expect a mobility device that is aesthetically pleasing. Strongback Mobility has you covered – and its efforts won the company the German Design Award 2020.
Dr. Christian Grothe, CEO of Strongback Mobility Europe GmbH, proudly explains: "Thanks to its curved lines, ergonomic shape, and modern design, our model is more designer wheelchair than classic wheelchair. Whether you are in a restaurant, the theater, or outings with your family, the STRONGBACK wheelchair impresses by delivering a myriad of benefits."
But Strongback can do more than just deliver a visually appealing design. Thanks to aluminum frames and other lightweight materials, the chairs not only bring a sense of freedom and ease, but also focus on another important aspect: the device is designed to be comfortable for the user as he/she is sitting. "Healthy, ergonomic, and comfortable sitting and pushing are the most important criteria," the CEO points out and adds, "It is often impossible to prevent 'slouching' in a conventional wheelchair. Since users lack movement and physical exercise, their muscles gradually degrade, which promotes a poor spinal posture and leads to other ailments. Just like an ergonomic office chair, an ergonomic wheelchair design can prevent this from happening and helps achieve a good upright sitting posture. This makes the STRONGBACK the first lightweight folding wheelchair that focuses on supporting the user’s spine."
Strongback achieves what users want with innovative ease: The wheelchair is not just a mobility aid but is also evolving into a fashionable and stylish accessory. And that’s a good thing according to Dr. Grothe.
What the ergonomic office chair is, is now also available for wheelchair users. Strongback Mobility prevents poor posture with its lightweight wheelchairs and, incidentally, also ensures contemporary design.
Innovative ideas and Italian design
An Italian startup takes a similar approach. Even though the active wheelchair market is quite large and features a myriad of products, Pandhora S.r.l. decided to step up to the plate because the company is confident it can make valuable, innovative contributions. "It is true, the market is really large, but what has pushed us to work in this field is the desire to innovate, which is also what distinguishes us from other manufacturers, namely the ability to apply innovative solutions to the aids we produce," Sales Director Nicodemo Di Pasquale explains. The team of engineers specializes in mechanical and biomedical designing and collaborates in research projects. So far, this has yielded two products the startup has patented. "In particular, PEVO is equipped with an adjustable mono-pipe backrest and a shock-absorbing seat." Apart from the innovative component, the wheelchair "Made in Italy" emphasizes comfort and design. After all, Italians are famous for their "sophisticated aesthetic taste". The startup is sure that what goes for red luxury sports cars is also true for wheelchairs: if you like the way it looks, you love to drive around in it.
Pandhora also has other products in its portfolio. For the Sales Director, the EP3 – the company’s proprietary traction device – is unique because "it has really excellent electronics, then it is equipped with the 2 innovations such as the stand integrated in the mudguard that allows the user not to have to throw the aid on the ground, then there is the universal conical coupling system which makes hooking up it to the wheelchair very simple and very fast. This product fits all types of wheelchairs on the market." And in doing so, the Italian startup not only delivers a modern wheelchair but also provides the matching "add-on".
Right now, traction devices and electric drive units are experiencing a boom. That’s because these compact helpers not only make it easier to get around with the wheelchair but also greatly enhance the user’s mobility. Plus, they promote participation - especially when it comes to recreational activities. Find out about the latest developments in wheelchairs and traction devices/add-ons as it pertains to the leisure and outdoor sector in our article about Wheelchair "add-ons".
Material selection and functionality trends
New materials create new possibilities, which is why rehabilitation technology likes to get inspired by other sectors. "When it comes to materials, companies often look to automotive and cycling industry trends. Carbon has been high on everyone’s list for some years now," says Daniela Götz-Steineke, Marketing DACH at MEYRA GmbH. She adds that "assist systems with smart technology play an increasingly important role in the wheelchair segment as it relates to functionality." Aside from greater independence thanks to easier ways of navigating and controlling the wheelchair or other "gimmicks" such as smart home applications users can manage from the wheelchair, intelligent technical wheelchair solutions that make the mobility aid safer and more comfortable are another top priority. Not all these innovations can be seen right off the bat. MEYRA has developed a tire pressure monitoring system that resembles solutions found in modern cars. Users do not need to physically exert themselves as the tire pressure always stays at the recommended level.
MEYRA is also amping up its design. Apart from the tried-and-true powder coating method, the company also offers wet painting. "Virtually every RAL or Pantone color and every car paint code can be used to customize any wheelchair and make it one of a kind thanks to individual wet painting. The benefit of wet painting is a greater color depth and intensity compared to the powder coating process," explains Daniela Götz-Steineke.
"You can now get the right assistive technology tool for every wheelchair user. These are great times for this consumer segment," says Mark Retter, product specialist, training manager, and coach at AAT Alber Antriebstechnik GmbH. Since users can choose from a wide range of goods, product service is critical. “We meet people where they are in their daily lives and review their personal situation together. Usually, this makes it much easier to choose an assistive device," the product specialist explains. Medical supply stores are another great resource when it comes to assistive technologies.
More independence for the users: This is also the main focus at MEYRA. For example, with the anti-tipper or the support roller on the active wheelchair, which can be operated without assistance using a specially developed mechanism.
Users assist product development to create the right aids
A trip to the medical supply store and great service are not just important for those affected by disability. Manufacturers also stay in touch with these facilities to make their products better and better. "In recent years, wheelchair users have become a focal point," says Stefan Schäfer, Managing Director Sales & Marketing DACH at MEYRA. For the manufacturer, it is important to communicate with medical supply stores, though hospital visits and user surveys are likewise an integral part of product development. "We aim to always offer the best solutions for each individual user and primarily consider his/her daily realities in the choice of products." The managing director points out that it is those who are affected by disability who also drive innovation.
MEYRA’s NANO X is perhaps the best example of how the company listens to user feedback, which subsequently affects product design. Not only did product development integrate several user suggestions, but the manufacturer also conducted a field test with wheelchair users before market launch, which made it possible to identify weak spots.
As we can see, even a mobility aid like the good old wheelchair can still be improved. It’s wonderful that there is still an abundance of new ideas – including those by innovative startups. The resulting pressure to innovate keeps everyone on their toes and fuels a continual improvement process. At the end of the day, it is the users who benefit or who do their part in ensuring that eventually everybody will have the perfect assistive technology they want and need.
Anne Hofmann (Translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com