Technology has advanced at lightening speed over the last 100 years. And the mobility industry has felt the effects of this as much as any.
Even in the last year, the progress made in mobility has been enormous. Just take a look at the innovation highlighted by Access and Mobility Professional‘s Five Star Mobility Products of 2017. From Invacare’s LiNX interactive touchscreen technology for powerchairs to the supreme new Vecta Sport Mobility Scooter from Karma Mobility – boundaries continue to be pushed.
Our wheelchair accessory, the wheelAIR cooling backrest cushion, was also lucky enough to be included as one of AMPro’s Star Mobility Products (thanks guys!). This got us thinking about all the star mobility products that have been produced before ours, in years gone by. These products have been pioneers in the industry and have formed the building blocks from which newer innovations have, and will, flourish.
Therefore, for this blog, we will highlight 4 key mobility inventions which we believe have impressed and inspired the most.
4 star mobility products that have shaped history
These products have changed the face of mobility and have allowed us to experience the level of accessibility we have today.
1. The wheelchair
Arguably one of the greatest and most significant inventions of our time, the wheelchair tops our list. It is so engrained into our normal appreciation of the world that it is hard to conceive it was once a hot new piece of tech.
The concept of a wheeled chair used to transport people can be traced as far back as to 525 in China and 1595 in Europe. However this early chair could not be propelled by the user.
The self propelled wheelchair was invented in 1655 by a 22 year old paraplegic watchmaker. However, this chair was more like a hand-cycle as it was propelled using hand cranks at the front.
And most life changing of all, in 1933 Harry Jennings and his disabled friend Herbert Everest invented the first lightweight, steel, folding, portable wheelchair. The basis of their life changing design is still used today and the concept has transformed the lives of those with mobility issues.
The wheelchair concept was further innovated in 1953 by George Kline. Embracing modernity and the surge of electronic development, he invented the powerchair to assist wounded veterans after the second world war. You can imagine how much of a marvel this device was at the time. It gave people a new lease of independence previously unimaginable!
Recent developments in powerchairs have given users the ability to stand up-right and even climb stairs. Again, these inventions mean that even though the world may not be completely accessible yet, technology is advancing to try and make it a more inclusive arena for all people.
2. Hand controls for cars
Even though the car was invented in 1885, it wasn’t until 1930 that those with disabilities were given the right to obtain a drivers licence (after a lot of struggle, as you could imagine!). To help disabled people drive, push-pull hand controls were invented. The first widely used hand control was developed in 1952 by Alan Ruprecht, who had polio. His Drive Master control as well as steering aids were eventually used across the world!
This invention, and further adaptive driving developments since, make the world a more equal space for everyone.
3. Off road wheelchairs
A more recent mobility invention means that almost no road is out of bounds for manual wheelchair users. The unique all terrain manual wheelchair was brought to the market in 2011 by British Inventor, Tim Morgan. Whether it be a muddy woodland trail, a trip to the shops, a walk in the park or up a mountain – the Mountain Trike can take you there!
A simply fantastic product. We could certainly see a future version of wheelAIR (that fits to rigid back-frames) being a great partner for this trike!
Additionally, an off-road manual wheelchair was recently invented that can manoeuvre desert and jungle terrain. Named SafariSeat, manufacture was set in motion in 2016 by social enterprise Uji after a very successful crowdfunding campaign. These chairs are easily and cheaply constructed in developing countries and will revolutionise opportunities for those who receive one. Their project is really worth a look!
It is not just manual chairs that have been adapted for the great outdoors. Powered off road wheelchairs have also been an important part of improving accessibility throughout history. Soon after the powerchair was developed in 1953, larger wheels with better grip were added to chairs intended to be used outdoors. Some modern versions are now use only three wheels, like the Trekinetic GTE. This attractive chair is lightweight at 36kg and can fit into most cars!
Off road wheelchairs, similar to car adaptions, were essential developments in the mobility industry to give disabled people wider access to the world.
Finally, the futuristic and robotic exoskeleton has made our list today because of the transformative experience it offers. Although the exoskeleton was originally developed for the U.S. Armed forces, it has more recently been adapted for medical use. The first device to be approved by the FDA was the exoskeleton created by Ekso Bionics in 2016.
It is a star mobility product for us because it rethinks current physical limitations. It gives those who can no longer walk the opportunity to do so again. A battery backpack powers the braces which encase the users’ legs.
This concept is remarkable and truly innovative and we are eager to see future developments. The possibilities seem vast for this cutting-edge product.
So where will the industry go next? The current innovative atmosphere creates the ideal conditions for fresh, trailblazing products to develop. And despite an increasing amount of radical inventions entering the market everyday, we still have a long way to go to make the world more accessible place for everyone.
Making the world more accessible is a central aim here at wheelAIR. So watch this space for our next innovation!