By Avner Meyrav, NoCamels
Wheeling down a flight of stairs may no longer be a formidable challenge for those confined to a wheelchair.Israeli company SoftWheel has developed a next-generation wheel that has its own inner-suspension system for shock absorption.
SoftWheel is the brainchild of Gilad Wolf, a farmer who found himself bound to a wheelchair for three weeks. “Four years ago, I broke my pelvis,” he tells NoCamels. “When I was wheeled to the synagogue one day, I was in agony when we went over some Ackerstein stones (a traditional stone used for sidewalks in Israel, which has many grooves).
I work with tractors and I noticed that tractors have a simple and ingenious airbag-based shock-absorbing construct. So I put two and two together: I built a wheelchair and combined a similar construct for each wheel. It made the wheelchair experience completely different. I took the idea and started to roll with it,” Wolf tells NoCamels.
While the company’s first product, Acrobat, is designed for wheelchairs, the company believes its product has a much wider-ranging application. “We understood very quickly that it’s not only a wheelchair product, but a complete game-changer,” CEO Daniel Barel tells NoCamels, “it is a platform for anything that has wheels.”
The wheelchair of the future
The Acrobat is designed to absorb shock and can be adjusted for each rider. In regular wheelchairs, (even “premium” ones) shock is spread evenly throughout the wheel, then transferred in its entirety to the rider. The Acrobat wheel operates differently. When the wheel is subjected to impact, the inner suspension automatically shifts towards the source of the impact and then back to its position, within three tenths of a second. This mechanism drastically reduces the shock felt by the rider, which makes it easier to traverse bumpy roads, go down curbs – or even stairs.
“Our technology has been tested by major wheelchair manufacturers around the world, both in Europe and the US,”Barel tells NoCamels, “and the results were off the charts.”
According to Barel, Acrobat wheels will be on the market this fall. “We’ve finished development for the wheel and we built our own production line in Israel.”
Cushing the commuter’s ride
Beyond wheelchairs, the company has also developed Fluent, a wheel based on its Symmetrical Selective In-Wheel Suspension, which can be used in bicycles. “Up until six year ago, you did not have a ‘city bike’ category,” Barel claims, “Today, in Europe, people commute with these bikes to work.” Barel asserts that unlike mountain bikes, city bikes have no suspension, and according to him, it is “the fastest growing segment in the world bicycle market.”
In the future, the company aims to expand its reach to all kinds of vehicles, including cars and even airplane landing gear. They are currently working on their Samson line, which will first be used on UAVs.
Heading overseas before returning home
SoftWheel was incorporated in 2011, with support from the Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator and the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Economics. The company’s chief designer is AAmirmir Zaid, who also designed the MUVe foldable urban scooter. The company held a seed funding round and is currently holding a Series A financing round (raising an amount they would not disclose).