Reinventing the Wheel, Softly

Design Spotlight: The SoftWheel


Like Soylent, the meal replacement invented by 24-year-old entrepreneur Rob Rhinehart when he couldn’t afford real food, or Iron Man, created by industrialist Tony Stark to escape the lair of the evil Wong-Chu, the SoftWheel arose as an invention of necessity: Gilad Wolf, an Israeli farmer who’d broken his pelvis, needed a way to get around his farm but found that conventional wheelchairs aggravated his injury. His idea was the SoftWheel, a wheel system with three built-in compression cylinders that distributes force from bumps and drops through the wheels instead of transferring it to the rider. With the help of the Rad-BioMed Technology Accelerator in Tel Aviv, he converted his concept sketches into a patent-pending design.

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It’s not the first product to reinvent the wheel. Last year, MIT scientists got a lot of press for inventing the Copenhagen Wheel, which turns an ordinary bike into an electric bike and monitors everything from pollution levels to road conditions. It’s not even the first product to put suspension into wheels, as British designer Sam Pearce recently did with the Loopwheel. But it is the first in-wheel suspension created specifically for wheelchairs.

However, its innovation comes at a cost. Currently, high-end wheelchairs like the Invacare Top End Reveal cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000. A pair of SoftWheels alone costs $2,000. But, as SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel points out, the wheels, which should be released to the public in Q4 of 2014, are retrofittable to any wheeled frame. And if you heal up? Throw them on your bike or your unicycle, and maybe try not to be so crazy this time around.