TodayApril 15, 2022

Toyota’s open source random acts of kindness

Designing mobility in a wheelchair

Over 65 million people worldwide are in wheelchairs. Almost one percent of our globe sits in a wheelchair, and yet many of them can’t go anywhere. Because getting a wheelchair is only the first step in getting around in this world. The wheelchair needs to be configured, and according to Nesta, “The prohibitive price of traditional design, manufacturing, and distribution means that 52 million people don’t have the wheelchair they need. That’s 8 out of 10 people!”

Why open-source?

Imagine the entire world of geniuses getting together to solve one problem in the world – that is open source. That is what Nesta and Toyota are asking from the world. Instead of hiring a group of people, Nesta and Toyota have created a hack-a-thon, called Hack on Wheels. Innovators from around the globe submitted game-changing technologies to improve the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis, and Toyota rewarded them.

Not each group has money, so along the way, to ensure entries from organizations of all sizes, the Challenge also offered ten teams seed funding in the form of $50,000 Discovery Award grants during the entry period. Of the ten Discovery Award winners, four went on to be selected as finalists.

The designs that won from the engineers, innovators, and designers from across the world thought outside of the wheelchair. The challenge incorporates intelligent systems, to improve the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis. You can see by the designs, that there are different stages of paralysis.

Central to the Challenge will be the collaboration with end-users to develop devices that will integrate seamlessly into users’ lives and environments, while being comfortable and easy to use, enabling greater independence and increased participation in daily life.

Each of the five finalists will receive a grant of $500,000 to develop their concept further, with the final winner of the Challenge receiving $1 million in Tokyo in 2020.

Congratulations to the finalists, and thank you to each group, all eighty entries in 28 countries globally, that worked to give someone you didn’t know a better life.

The five finalists are:

The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States)

The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States)

The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States) – a non-intrusive sleeve that goes around the user’s leg and has sensors that track the user’s walking motion and will stimulate the right muscles at the right time to improve mobility.


The Evowalk is a non-intrusive sleeve that goes around the user’s leg and has sensors that track the user’s walking motion and will stimulate the right muscles at the right time to improve mobility. This personalized, timed muscle stimulation that helps user’s muscles contract as they walk will not only help them day to day but will also rehabilitate the muscles over time.

“It feels amazing to be selected. The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is a fantastic opportunity for people to build devices that are normally hard to fund but could make a huge difference. This support will help us finish our research and develop the device further, so we can get it to the people who really need it. People like my dad.

My dad has multiple sclerosis and developed foot drop. He was recommended a device that was far too expensive, so I and some friends built this prototype that helped. After that, we wanted to make something affordable for others. Our main goal has always been to help people regain the ability to walk freely again.”
~ Pierluigi Mantovani from Evolution Devices

Moby: Italdesign (Italy)

Moby: Italdesign (Italy)

Moby: Italdesign (Italy) – If you don’t know Italdesign you will now. I can only imagine the luxuriousness of this wheelchair and technical engineering. The Moby is an integrated network of wheel-on powered devices, allowing users of manual wheelchairs the convenience and benefits of a powered chair, accessible via an app-based share scheme.


Moby is the first mobility service created for wheelchair users. It’s the cycle share scheme equivalent to wheelchair users. Consisting of a series of wheel-on electric devices, located in urban hubs, it will make traveling around cities much simpler and easier for people with lightweight manual wheelchairs. Connected via an app, will enable users to interact with the device, other wheelchair users, and other means of transport.

“Moby is a concept we developed over time, working with users of wheelchairs. They said they wanted a way to make traveling easier and so we developed this platform. We entered this Challenge because we wanted to have a different kind of mobility solution which is accessible to all. We are very happy to have been selected for the Challenge and hope to develop the concept further and to build the first prototypes to test on the street as soon as possible. We are looking forward to bringing this concept to reality and working with users to improve it over time. The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is important because it gives a possibility to everybody to take part and make a difference in the mobility world.”
~ Serena De Mori from Italdesign

Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair: Phoenix Instinct (United Kingdom)

Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair: Phoenix Instinct (United Kingdom)

Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair: Phoenix Instinct (United Kingdom) – an ultra-lightweight, self- balancing, an intelligent wheelchair which eliminates painful vibrations.


The Phoenix AI wheelchair is an ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair made from carbon-fiber. Using smart sensors, the chair will configure itself to what the user is doing, so it remains in sync with how the user moves. The sensors detect if the user is leaning forward or back, algorithms will calculate the wheelchair’s response.backwardnix Ai will have many smart functions never before seen in wheelchairs, at the core is an intelligent center of gravity. The chair will continually adjust its center of gravity to fit what the user is doing making for a chair that is easier to push and turn by eliminating drag and uncomfortable, painful vibration while also making the chair safe from falling backward. Intelligent, lightweight power assist will make slopes easier to ascend while automatic braking will remove the need for users to grip the wheels to slow down.

“I’m delighted to have made it to the final five. I’ve worked towards this for years but didn’t expect to make it through! I’m so pleased the judges recognized that the wheelchair has proved itself as the most viable mobility device for decades and although it has done well it is now tired and in need of a serious makeover. I wanted to show how I think the wheelchair can be evolved while maintaining its core, proven fundamental capabilities that are behind its success as a mobility device.

I wanted to be part of this Challenge because I broke my back when I was 14 which was now thirty-five years ago. By the time I was 16, I’d decided that I would one day design a wheelchair that would change perceptions by using cutting-edge materials and styling.

I knew the next step beyond advanced materials has to be to make wheelchairs smart. But that costs a huge amount of money in development. So, when I saw this Challenge, I thought here is the money to develop this technology. No-one else is going to do it. No company is going to decide to spend half a million dollars on research and development to advance the manual wheelchair. Why should they? As long as their competitor also doesn’t do it, the status quo can continue with wheelchairs remaining much as they were thirty-five years ago.

This Challenge changes that. Being selected is just incredible. But now the work really begins, we’ve got eighteen months to turn the wheelchair which has been in the technological dark for so long into a futuristic device that intelligently makes wheelchair life easier.”
~ Andrew Slorance from Phoenix Instinct

Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion)

Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion)

● Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion): Team Qolo, University of Tsukuba, (Japan) – a mobile exoskeleton on wheels, allowing users to sit or stand with ease.


The Qolo Standing Device consists of a lightweight, mobile exoskeleton on wheels that uses passive actuators to allow users to sit or stand, effectively removing the ‘chair’ from ‘wheelchair.’ Mobility is controlled using the upper body, allowing hands-free operation. The device enables users to travel around in a standing position, changing both the physiological and social aspects of everyday living.

“We’re very proud to be in the final five. We want to remove the chair from the wheelchair. Our device gives users the choice to sit or stand, using cutting-edge technologies. This means that wheelchair users can interact with other people at the same eye-level, improving communication and changing the way they see the world. We are of course very happy to have been selected, but our work is not over. Once we develop our product and people start using it, and we see how it has helped people, that will make us truly happy.

But what makes us most happy is that there were 80 entrants. Eighty innovators are contributing to society. Not just our unique device. The hope is that someday people could be choosing from 80 very different devices.”
~ Kenji Suzuki from Team Qolo

Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States)

Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States)

Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States) – a highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable, and agile upright mobility.


A robotic, powered exoskeleton with motors at the hips, knees, and ankles, as well as additional actuators offering someone with lower-limb paralysis fast, stable, and agile upright mobility. Utilizing modular actuation, perception technology from autonomous vehicles, and control algorithms for balancing autonomous humanoid robots, this device will deliver the mobility, safety, and independence that current exoskeletons cannot. The device will improve accessibility in society – especially at home and work.

“We’re delighted to have made it through as one of the five finalists of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge. In the business world, developing technologies for people with lower-limb paralysis has been extraordinarily hard. We’ve constantly struggled against people saying the market is too small and because of that people aren’t putting in the effort, research or investment this field deserves, meaning there hasn’t been enough advancement.
~ Peter Neuhaus from IHMC & MYOLYN

Dr. Eric Krotkov, Chief Science Officer at Toyota Research Institute and one of the judges of the Challenge stated: “There are so many technological opportunities to explore approaches to alleviate challenges stemming from lower-limb paralysis. A competition like the Mobility Unlimited Challenge gets innovators to focus on the same problem to identify something of great common interest that serves society. I am excited by these finalists who have a breadth of technical approaches – wheelchairs, orthotics, braces, exoskeletons.

I look forward to seeing how they will take these devices out of their conceptual stage to help our end users.”
In addition to the $500,000 grant, the finalists will attend tailored workshops, receive mentoring opportunities with engineering experts, and collaborate with end users to further the development of their concepts through to 2020.

Each finalist receives a $500,000 grant to develop their idea further, and the final winner will be awarded $1 million in 2020 in Tokyo.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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