Ride-share wheelchairs and powered exoskeletons make final cut in Toyota mobility competition
Launched in 2017, Toyota's Mobility Unlimited Challenge is a global competition designed to inspire new technologies that change the lives of sufferers of lower limb paralysis. At CES in Las Vegas it has now unveiled the five finalists who will battle it out for the US$1 million grand prize, with an intelligent wheelchair and exoskeleton on wheels among the shortlisted projects.
Engineers, inventors and designers from all around the world submitted concepts for the $4 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge, all seeking to give those with lower limb paralysis greater independence. The teams were expected to collaborate with these users throughout the development of their devices to make sure they were comfortable and easy to use.
The Evowalk (pictured below) from US-based team Evolution Devices is a leg sleeve that is both smart and non-intrusive. It is packed with sensors that monitor movement in the legs and predict the user's walking motion, then stimulates certain leg muscles at just the right time to help them on their way.
Also out of the US is Quix by IHMC & MYOLYN, which is an exoskeleton designed specifically to enable wheelchair users to stand upright. The Qolo, from Japan's Team Qolo, is also an exoskeleton, but incorporates wheels for extra mobility and allows its users to sit or stand "with ease."
The Moby (pictured below) from Italy's Italdesign is probably the most elaborate solution, at least judging by the renders. It consists of a network of sensors built into a larger wheeled vehicle, which wheelchair users can roll into to turn their ride into an electrically powered one. These Moby vehicles would be available throughout cities as part of an app-based ride-sharing scheme.
And lastly, the Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair looks to address what its creators, who hail from the UK, see as a few shortcomings with current wheelchair design. They aim to remove small vibrations and undesirable turning circles through a smart chair that alters its center of gravity on the fly to leave very little weight on the front wheels, making them easier to turn and push.
"These five finalists have shown real innovation driven by human-centered design," says Ryan Klem, Director of Programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation. "We think that the technology incorporated in these devices could change the lives of a huge number of people around the world, not just for people with lower-limb paralysis, but also those with a wider range of mobility needs."
The five finalist teams each receive a $500,000 grant to continue their work, with the winner to be awarded $1 million in Tokyo in 2020. You can hear from each team in the video below.