An Israeli company has literally reinvented the wheel, with incredible results. SoftWheel, “an innovative young company at the cutting edge of technology aimed at reinventing the wheel,” has created a unique suspension system which can allow bicycles and wheelchairs to traverse terrain normally considered too difficult, even going down stairs.
Farmer Gilad Woolf first came up with the idea when he broke his leg and became wheelchair-bound. Woolf found the ride trying.
Financed by RAD BioMed Accelerator Group and in conjunction with Ziv-Av Engineering Group, SoftWheel has been working on its “breakthrough technology that changes the perception of the wheel and its function.”
“Very quickly we understood it’s not just about putting the suspension inside the wheel,” SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel told The Jerusalem Post. “The beauty of our technology is not only that it’s an integral part of the wheel, it’s selective and symmetric. That’s the game-changer.”
Because the wheel is “selective and symmetric,” it provides a smooth ride both on flat surfaces and over obstacles.
According to the SoftWheel website, “In normal ride on standard floors or pavements, the suspension mechanism remains static. The Acrobat™ [SoftWheel’s flagship product for wheelchairs] acts and feels as a high-end, rigid wheel. However, when encountering an impact caused by an obstacle above a specific threshold, the Acrobat’s Selective Suspension mechanism comes into play. This causes a shift of the wheel’s hub from its previously central location and develops a cushioning effect that dramatically absorbs and lessens the impact transferred to the rider.
“Once the obstacle has been passed, the hub shifts back to its central location smoothly, automatically, and seamlessly. The wheel regains its rigidity and responsiveness, and the user continues moving efficiently. In fact, it is the wheel that absorbs most of the shock generated by impact, rather than the chair or the user’s body.”
Today’s vehicles contain complex suspension systems which eat up 30-35% of the wheel’s available propulsion energy. With the SoftWheel’s selective suspension, up to 97% of the energy goes to the wheel itself, Barel explained. This means the SoftWheel is more efficient, too.
“It is much more efficient both in terms of battery and sweat,” he said, elaborating on the product’s application to electric bikes. “One of the current barriers is that city bikes are uncomfortable because they lack suspension.”
As for cars, Barel said it would take seven to ten years of research to enter the industry. For now, the company is focus on developing wheel systems for wheelchairs, bicycles and aircraft landing gear, but the possibilities are endless.
With the Acrobat available now for wheelchairs, the company hopes to have the Fluent bicycle wheel on the market by 2015. The aircraft landing gear are in development. Although sold worldwide, all research and development is being done in Israel.