Hybrid wheelchairs from southern India promise bright future for people suffering from mobility problems
In a day and age where technology is adding an upgrade in every area of our lives, a group of young minds has developed ground-breaking technology for people, who suffer from locomotive problems. They have come up with the country’s first-ever motorized wheelchair, in southern India’s Tamil Nadu.
Named ‘NeoBolt’, this device has been prepared at a laboratory called the TTK Centre for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development in Chennai. It is the brainchild of three graduates and their professor from IIT Madras. Swostik Sourav Dash and Dr. Sujatha Srinivasan were the initial co-founders of ‘NeoMotion’ and later on, Siddarth Daga and Ashish Mohan Sharma joined in as the heads of manufacturing and supply and sales and marketing, respectively.
The product consists of two parts- ‘NeoFly’ the wheelchair and ‘NeoBolt’, its motor. The ‘NeoFly’ wheelchairs are specifically customised according to the patient’s body sizes. This is important as most wheelchairs come in a general size and sometimes, using them can be quite a hassle for the patients as they can be big or small.
Here, the customisable feature of ‘NeoFly’ is what sets it apart from others as its users can experience comfort. They are customised according to the patient’s size and can cover more distance with every push. Also, these customisable wheelchairs are compact so that it could go through any gate or door.
The next part is ‘NeoBolt’, which is the motor for this wheelchair. Oftentimes, wheelchair users find difficulty in having someone to push them at all times and thus, become dependent on others, especially when it comes to outdoor mobility.
But, ‘NeoBolt’ eliminates that problem as it is a battery-powered motor which when attached to the ‘NeoFly’, makes it a sort of a bike, for outdoor mobility. Visuals from a patient using this device in western India’s Ahmedabad from June this year, showed him attaching the ‘NeoBolt’ to the front part of his ‘NeoFly’ wheelchair and riding it like a bike on a road. He is later seen easily detaching it as well.
The combination of both these devices cost Rs 1,18,000 (USD 1,484.96). What’s better is that ‘NeoBolt’ has a 48-volt battery that can cover up to 25 km if charged once for four hours. It can be charged normally in a household socket.
The battery is removable and one doesn’t need to carry the whole thing around when it needs charging. Weighing around 3 kgs, the battery can be taken anywhere for charging.
Speaking to Newslions, Daga, one of the co-founders of the device, said, “The main objective of our laboratory was that our research should benefit the population.”
“Keeping that in mind, the lab started approaching industry partners so that we could produce these gadgets for the usage of common people. It is at that point of time when we realised why not set up our own start-up and commercialise this. That’s how it started in 2016. A year ago, we developed the first prototype of the standing wheelchair.”
In 2018, they released 25 samples of ‘NeoFly’ wheelchairs and sold them to people, who were also the first ones they experimented with. These people gave their feedback from time to time so that developments could be made to the product. A second and improved version came out in 2019.
“We have visited hospitals and have received good responses from them. They were happy with our innovation and that engineers were working on these. We work together with doctors as well to develop these devices,” he added.
“We have approached hospitals and they have been happy with our innovation. Currently, we are also on the lookout for distributors to help them get this product far out to many across the country. People interested in our product are conducting it and we offer a test drive before they buy it,” Daga shared.
So how did this all start? Daga shares that Professor Sujata exposed them to the field of locomotive disability and he and his colleagues then used their engineering acumen to design the product.
Other than liberating people with locomotive problems from depending on others and helping them achieve independence when it came to movement, ‘NeoMotion’ has also empowered many, giving them the opportunity to earn their own life despite being specially abled.
“Currently, we have 54 members, out of which 12-13 are specially-abled. There were a few members who had started out as our users and then, we onboarded them. They are specially-abled themselves. We have three field executives–one in Bengaluru, Trivandrum, and Lucknow each and they are the ones who demonstrate and pitch our products to hospitals. Since they are users themselves, they can demonstrate it better and also, it is a sort of livelihood for themselves,” Daga added.
On what his company wants to achieve in the long run, Daga revealed that they have set a target to impact 1 lakh lives by 2025. “We have had 2000 orders so far out of which we delivered 1,900.”
Visuals from western India’s Ahmedabad showed a user using the device. He takes the wheelchair and attaches it to the motor, before zooming off.
By Souryaprokas Bhaduri and Sudipto Maity