We have covered the IntelliWheels automatic gear switching system for wheelchairs in the past. The system automatically adjusts gears by monitoring how fast the user is going and how hard they are pushing. The device was featured at this year’s Open Minds exhibition and we had a chance to ask IntelliWheels founder Marissa Siebel some questions about their product.
Medgadget: What gave you the idea to come up with this concept?
My partner Scott Daigle, a mechanical engineer, came up with the idea for a geared wheelchair as a student at the University of Illinois. The University of Illinois is the leader in accessibility, a place of tremendous history and innovation in the world of disability. Scott has come up with the idea of using mechanical gears to make pushing across the large campus easier when in a manual wheelchair. When I joined Scott we continued to research how this technology could benefit wheelchair users by reducing shoulder and upper extremity pain. We also focused on what was currently available for mobility, interviewed many wheelchair users and innovated based on feedback. Our goals have always been to design technology to meet individual’s needs and actively listen to wheelchair users throughout the whole process.
Medgadget: What’s the make-up of your team?
Our team currently is Scott Daigle MS mechanical engineer, co-founder, President, CEO. Marissa Siebel MS, disability specialist, co-founder and VP of Marketing and Sales. Josh George VP of Public Relations, USA Paralympian, world record holder and gold medalist in wheelchair racing.
I would also like to mention the University of Illinois and the community of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois. Without the support of the university and the community, IntelliWheels and our line of geared wheels for wheelchairs would not have had the success we have had.
Medgadget: What was the biggest obstacle you have faced so far trying to make this concept a reality?
We have done an outstanding job bootstrapping, we have run our company from idea to product in just over 2 years on grants, award money and creativity. If we were not pushed to be creative financially I am not sure we would be where we are. In some ways I could say securing financial support has been an obstacle, in other ways it has been a powerful blessing. We have learned a lot moving from a student start-up to a true start-up company and each step has had its own challenges, I can truly say it is the strength of the team that has pulled us up and over each obstacle.
Medgadget: What feedback have you gotten so far from wheelchair users?
As the athletic trainer for wheelchair athletics at the University of Illinois I work with 40 wheelchair athletes on a daily basis, this provides us feed back from a section of wheelchair users, we turn to our athletes to check the “cool” factor of our products, however we have also created a wonderful relationship with Clark-Lindsay a nursing home and assisted living home in our community. We are able to gain feedback from wheelchair users in their 80’s and 90’s for products designed for the aging population.
So far feedback on our IntelliWheels Easy Push or EP has been very positive, the simple 2:1 geared wheel makes it easier foe people with limited strength, weakness, or fatigue to push easier. We have had our prototypes in the hands of end users and have great testimonials of older clients being able to stay out of powered mobility due to the ease of the IntelliWheels EP.
Medgadget: What kind of cost difference would there be between your technology and the currently available standard?
Currently the industry offers manual, powered or push assist mobility. Each person is different and everyone has specific needs, we fit very well for individuals who are looking to stay out of powered mobility, maintaining their independence in a light weight, low cost solution. The current issues with powered mobility is weight, lack of ability for transporting the powered chair in a vehicle, dramatic decrease in physical activity, social barriers, and push back from facilities where it may not be safe for an individual to use powered mobility.
Other options include push assist that run on battery and add additional weight. Our closest competitor is Magic Wheels a great solution for climbing hills however it can be difficult to use in a facility or the home.
IntelliWheels EP is mobility made easy, easy to push, intuitive to use, lightweight, and low profile, all fitting the needs and wants of manual wheelchair users wanting and extra push.
Product page: IntelliWheels…