A startup company at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is on a mission to make manual wheelchairs more efficient and user-friendly through innovative engineering. Intelliwheels is developing an ultra-lightweight, multi-geared wheel that is transforming the way wheelchair.
Scientists are working to build a better wheelchair
A startup company at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is on a mission to make manual wheelchairs more efficient and user-friendly through innovative engineering.
IntelliWheels is developing an ultra-lightweight multi-geared wheel that is transforming the way wheelchair users around the world interact with their environment, providing greater independence and mobility.
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I was a mechanical engineering student at the University of Illinois, and I was in the math classes, and I just really struggled with them.
But what I loved to do was design and really loved to talk to people and figure out, 'Here's a problem that we can solve.
Here's a problem that we can solve just by designing a new device or a new piece of technology.'
So, as a company, we started off by developing geared wheels.
Incredibly simple pieces of technology that just have gears inside the wheels to make it easier for somebody to push.
Just like when you shift to a low gear on a bicycle, it makes it easier to pedal up a hill or pedal across grass, the low gear in a wheel on a wheelchair can make it easier to get where you're trying to go.
So the I series wheels are ultralight geared wheels for manual wheelchairs.
They have no motor, no battery, and they're about as light as you can possibly get a geared manual wheelchair wheel.
One of the things that really attracted me to the project and to IntelliWheels is that, right from the get-go, they understood that they weren't just solving a problem of efficiency but they were designing a product that a person was going to use in their daily life.
I might have a very athletic background, and we've take some ideas from the athletic world that we're developing, but we're not really designing athletic products.
We're designing products to help a person throughout their daily life -- going to school, going to work, going to the store, whatever it is.
It's all about independence.
It's all about being able to do things for yourself, and that's what the geared wheels are for.
One of the most amazing things about the University of Illinois is, it was the very first accessible university in the country.
It began letting students with physical disabilities in in the late '50s and really expanded on those programs through the '60s and '70s until it really became one of the leaders in the country and in the world in accessibility.
Accessibility and students on campus, it's like part of our DNA.
Regardless of what your job is, everyone's aware of students on campus with disabilities.
But the work that Josh and his partners are doing, it's just an example of the power of an idea.
And the other part is that, it's not something or someone without a disability coming up with the solution for you because you're 'a poor person with a disability.'
It's people with disabilities saying, 'You know what?
We know how to do things.
We can come up with some of our own ideas,' because of their lived experiences.
The fact that we've got so many wonderful, smart, intelligence people who use wheelchairs around us, it makes it so much easier to create a worthwhile technology.
We would never be able to get anywhere where we are without the ability to talk to people who actually use the things we design.
That's the key to all of our success or any innovation we create.