Why hoverboards may be the wheelchairs of the future

The wheelchair is believed to have first been invented in China, although it was not until 1933 that mechanical engineers developed the portable modern version.

Despite the transformations that technological developments have provided to the world since then, mobility technology for people with lower-limb paralysis has not developed at the same pace.

According to an international survey by the Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF), 54% of wheelchair users in the UK say they have been unable to work as a result of their device.

Nine in 10 say they have experienced negative consequences because of their mobility device when working or job hunting, and 28% would say their talent has been “wasted” as a result of their device.

The foundation has pledged $4m (£3m) to teams competing to change the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis by designing new devices to allow wheelchair users more independence.

Among the new technologies which have been proposed are a hoverboard wheelchair, sleeker exoskeletons providing support to users’ bodies, and a self-driving AI wheelchair from Imperial College London.

August de los Reye, the head of design at Pinterest and former head of design at XBox, said: “I cannot imagine how my career path would have changed if the challenges I face in the workplace today had occurred early in my career.

“Of the various challenges highlighted from the survey results, commercial travel and transportation is still fraught with accommodating those of us in power wheelchairs.”

Mr de los Reye, alongside television presenter Sophie Morgan and filmmaker Matthew Reeve, the son of Christopher Reeve, are among the judges for the competition.

“As a designer, much of my work involves directly engaging with people who use the offerings we design,” said Mr de los Reye.

“Given the global reach of technology, travelling the world to meet the customers we serve is vital to design meaningful products and services.

“The lack of accessible transportation hinders the invaluable direct contact needed to inform and humanise technologies that billions around the globe experience in their daily lives.

“While my experience centres around design and technology, it is my hope that urgent innovation will avail people with ability differences, regardless of profession or personal interest, to travel easily and enjoy the outcome of direct engagement with the worldwide communities whom we serve.”


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