It’s often said that we live in a global economy. This is particularly true when it comes to innovations in wheelchair technology. It wasn’t that long ago when if a mobility product was made in a country even as close as Canada, we didn’t know about it in the United States, and we certainly couldn’t get it. Today, however, many of the mobility innovations from abroad quickly make their way to our awareness through the internet and social media. And, it’s not too long thereafter that we have access to them. In fact, if you attend an Abilities Expo nowadays, it’s astounding how many of the new, cutting-edge mobility technologies are from other countries.
So, when scouring the new wheelchair technologies from abroad, what are the hottest of the hot?
Formula 1 Tech in a Folder
Motion Composites’ Veloce, from Quebec, Canada, might be the most high-tech folding ultralight ever designed. Starting with T700 high-modulus carbon fiber from the Formula 1 industry, the Veloce is a molded masterpiece, combining both the rigidity of a box frame and the sleekness of a cantilever frame. Capitalizing on carbon fiber’s ability to create contours, welds and abrupt seams are replaced by wicked curves that Motion Composites refers to as the “Mantis” frame. Such an exotic material and frame design doesn’t just add up to great responsiveness, but a scant complete chair weight at under 18 pounds — very light for a folder. Despite the Veloce’s high-end attributes, it’s remarkably adjustable, featuring all of the tailoring of a traditional ultra-light folder — from seat angle to center-of-gravity to seat-to-floor height, and so on. With so much technology and awesome adjustability, one might be surprised at the exceptionally reasonable MSRP: $4,795.
The World’s Lightest Ultra-Light
In the realm of rigids, the carbon fiber Panthera X from Sweden claims to be the world’s lightest ultra-light at just over 10 pounds complete, with a transport weight of 4.6 pounds. If seeing is believing, this writer, indeed, has never felt a wheelchair anywhere as light. The secret to the Panthera X’s insanely light weight is in its minimalist carbon fiber frame and backrest. Arguably, no chair features more use of carbon fiber, with fewer components. And due to the forming possibilities of carbon fiber, the Panthera X is as sleek and sexy as it gets — the Ferrari of ultra-lights. With all that said, it’s not a chair for those needing adjustability, as all is very custom and fixed, nor is it for those who aren’t sitting on thick wallets, with a U.S. MSRP of around $10,000. I guess the Ferraris of wheelchairs aren’t cheap, either.
A True Spine for Your Spine
The Tarta backrest — imported from Italy by Stealth Products — is revolutionizing back support for wheelchair users. Traditionally, even the highest-end backrests are simply a solid surface with some fixed shaping and contours. The Tarta backrest is the complete opposite: it’s based on a mechanical spine and ribs, replicating the human anatomy. Just as the human spine is formed of vertebra, so is the center of the Tarta backrest. It bends, curves and flexes like your spine. By loosening the minimal hardware on the Tarta’s spine, it can bend rearward for lumbar tailoring; it can bend forward for kyphosis tailoring; and it can simultaneously curve left or right, even in an S shape to address various forms of spinal curvature. Further, because the Tarta’s spine uses individual pads at each vertebra instead of a solid pad, it is height-adjustable and allows positioning of each pad for exact support, with the ability to work around scarring or protrusions. From the spine, ribs extend for lateral support with the same type of adjustability, conforming to and supporting virtually any postural asymmetry.
Not only is the Tarta arguably the most adaptable backrest ever engineered, it has one more unique feature. Once fit, all can be locked in place for solid support, or its unique structure can allow dynamic movement, so it flexes with your movements, reducing fatigue and strain for some. Whether you have extreme postural complexities, want a truly customized backrest or the ultimate in a sports backrest, the Tarta covers it all.
The Ultimate Balance in Power Assist
Making its way to the United States from France is AutoNomad Mobility’s Nomad power assist add-on for ultra-light wheelchairs. The Nomad is traditional in that you add on wheels with hub motors, a battery pack and a joystick. And, yes, you can switch between push rim activation or joystick control. However, here’s what differentiates the Nomad from every other power assist system: the Nomad features a self-balancing mode, where you can not only sit on a wheelie, but drive over curbs and the roughest terrain on only the rear wheels. We all know that the limiting factor in ultra-light propulsion can be the front casters digging in and catching. The most coordinated, skilled ultra-light users master the art of the wheelie to traverse curbs and such. By using gyroscope technology, the Nomad takes the specialized skill and risk out of wheelie-propulsion in an ultra-light. At the push of a button, the Nomad self-balances, and with the joystick drives as such, including up and down curbs, over grass and rough terrain. It’s not sold in the United States yet but is on its way, so visit their site or jump on YouTube to see this astounding innovation.
As wheelchair users, global innovation dramatically improves our lives because we don’t just get the talented minds in our own country, but benefit from the innovations of all of humanity.
• AutoNomad Mobility, www.autonomad-mobility.com/en/home/
• Motion Composites, www.motioncomposites.com, 877/667-6811
• Panthera, www.panthera.se, 855/546-0711
• Stealth Products, www.stealthproducts.com, 800/965-9229