Wheelchair users are generally restricted within the four walls of their homes. However, now a motorised wheelchair developed by IIT Madras is transforming the lives of the physically challenged. SHALINI SAKSENA tells you more
India is still not a very friendly when it comes to movement for the physically challenged. However, a lot has changed and now malls and many theatres have ramps. Yet, there movement is entirely dependent on a family member or a friend. But what if there was a way where these people could be independent in their movement? Go to the market? Go to work without having to depend on others? All this and much more is now possible.
The Indian Institute of Technology Madras has developed the country’s first indigenous motorised wheelchair vehicle that can be used not only on roads but even on uneven terrains!
The NeoBolt as the vehicle is called makes it possible for the wheelchair user to move with a convenient, safe and low-cost mode of outdoor mobility. The motorised wheelchair has been developed by a team led by Professor Sujatha Srinivasan, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras and commercialised through a start-up NeoMotion and co-founded by Srinivasan and an IIT Madras alumnus Swostik Sourav Dash who is the CEO.
Interestingly Professor Srinivasan also led the team that developed India’s first indigenously-designed standing wheelchair — Arise. It helps a wheelchair user to shift from sitting to standing position.
Professor Srinivasan who is also the faculty head, TTK Center for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development tells you that their vision is to transform the disability landscape in India by creating functional and affordable assistive devices.
Dash says that the features of the NeoBolt are available only in the global market but these are at least three to five times more expensive. After graduating from IIT Madras and working in the corporate sector for a couple of years, Dash decided that he had had enough and he wanted to get back to product designing that has social impact.
“To begin with, we launched standing wheelchair. In 2015, while travelling for one design and development product, I interacted with around 200 wheelchair users across 40 locations. It was during these interactions that we understood the ground reality — what kind of wheelchairs people have been using and the challenges that came with it. Based on our findings in 2016, we started NeoMotion,” Dash says.
One is told that the NeoFly is the first wheelchair in the country that is customised to the user. It is built to provide comfort, efficient propulsion, higher manoeuvrability and superior ergonomics. This means more comfort for the user with no back pain due to sitting long hours on the wheelchair.
It is estimated that three lakh wheelchairs are sold annually in India, of these 2.5 lakh are imported. Nearly 95 per cent of all wheelchairs sold are one-size-fits-all, which restricts mobility and damages health.
“Once we realised what the market was like, we decided to develop NeoFly, a customeise wheelchair. The advantage is that it covers three to five times more distance for every push since the user has the right posture, a rigid frame and an ergonomic push-rim. As the wheelchair is conforms to user’s body, the user more visible than the wheelchair. Also, the cushion, that comes with each of our wheelchair is designed to enhance skincare, stability and ease of transfer,” Dash explains.
But this is not all. The best part of the NeoFly is that it can be converted into a NeoBolt — a motor-powered clip-on. In other words, after the 18 customised paramentres that are taken into consideration while designing the wheelchair for better comfort of the user, the motorised clip-on makes it possible for the user to be independent; he can drive up to 25 km for a round trip. “With an additional battery this distance can increased,” Dash says.
So, how does it work? The wheelchair comes with a design that makes it possible for the user to attach the wheelchair to a motorised part in such a manner that from the front it looks like a bike. Once the wheelchair is clipped in and locked, it gets converted into a safe, road-worthy vehicle that can navigate any kind of terrain. It can drive through unpaved streets or climb a steep gradient. To be able to do this easily and comfortably it has suspensions to absorb the shocks. If this did not impress you here are some more features that are an eye-opener. It has safety anti-tippers (prevents the wheelchair from tipping over on the road), a digital dashboard, headlight, side indicators, horn and a mirror. It was a reverse function, has telescopic suspension with a rugged built chassisum. The motorised wheelchair has a speed of 25 km per hour and travels up to 25 km per charge. It is powered by a lithium-ion battery.
Till now, the start-up has sold has sold over 600 such wheelchairs across 28 States. “The feedback has been positive. People can go and seen the demo units that are available at 15 dealer outlets and four rehabilitation centres in major cities. Also, the entire customisation is done remotely. It takes around 35-40 days for it to reach the user’s doorstep,” Dash says.
The personalised wheelchair is available at `39,900 and the motorised add-on is available at `55,000. Though the price may be high given that normal wheelchair costs around `7,000, the benefits that this wheelchair offers is worth every penny.
Those looking for EMI options, can pre-book with `1,000 by registering on company website,” Dash says.