US army veterans are getting their wheels in motion – literally – thanks to an Israeli-based startup supplying them with a revolutionary, new shock-absorbing wheel that will give them a more comfortable, secure ride.
The Department of Veteran Affairs signed a deal in July to purchase wheels for wheelchairs from Tel Aviv startup SoftWheel. The groundbreaking firm, which has developed a unique suspension technology is set to provide the organization with wheels for 2,000 wheelchairs over the course of three years. The Department Of Veteran Affairs will pay $4.5 million for the buy.
SoftWheel Chief Revenue Officer Hanit Marinov, who tells NoCamels that the agreement was made through Ki Mobility, a wheelchair manufacturer partnering with the US Department of Veteran Affairs to produce wheelchairs, confirmed that it’s the largest deal ever for the wheel tech startup and appreciates that it “focuses on the benefits to veterans and the access it gives them in their daily lives.”
“The best thing to say about this deal is that we’re proud to be a supplier to the VA through Ki Mobility,” she says, “The American VA [deal] is dramatic for us because of the quantity we’ll be providing [for veterans.] We’re very proud to be a part of this.”
According to Marinov, any wheelchair-bound veteran in the United States is eligible to request a set of wheels fully funded by the VA. One of the goals of the deal, she says, is to allow access to as many veterans as possible.
The company says it is important that the wheels be “compatible with any wheelchair frame,” which is true in the case of the Acrobat, which the company calls the world’s most advanced wheel system helping “riders achieve the ultimate combination of comfort and performance, incredible improvements in energy-efficiency and significant impact reduction on the spine and back.”
Marinov notes that the company is also in the process of getting approval to offer its technology to the Israeli Ministry of Defense. “We are waiting for the day that we’re going to be part of the Defense Ministry here in Israel. It’s a process that we’re going through and it’s a bit different from the American VA. We already submitted everything that is needed. We’re waiting for the final ok.”
SoftWheel was founded in 2011 by Gilad Wolf, a farmer who broke his pelvis four years prior and found himself in a wheelchair for three weeks. It was a painful experience, he told NoCamels in 2014. Later, his work with tractors led him to notice that they “have a simple and ingenious airbag-based shock-absorbing construct. So I put two and two together: I built a wheelchair and combined a similar construct for each wheel. It made the wheelchair experience completely different. I took the idea and started to roll with it,” he says.
Wolf established the Acrobat wheel, SoftWheel’s patented in-wheel suspension absorbs shocks and vibrations, lessening the impact on the spine of wheelchair users. In other wheelchairs, the impact of going over bumps is spread through the wheel and transferred directly to the rider. However, the inner suspension of the SoftWheel shifts toward the source of the impact and then back to the original position, reducing the shock felt by the rider. This allows users to go over uneven terrain, curbs, and even downstairs with minimal neck and back pain. It also lets people go further faster without getting tired.
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The wheels are adapted to the weight of the user. Each wheel weighs 1.8 pounds and its price ranges from $2,200 to $2,500 depending on the model required.
Marinov says that the company will continue to update its wheel product for the wheelchair. “We’re looking to launch a new version in October. It’s the same product, the same mechanism, just a slimmer rim made out of carbon, so it will be lighter in weight.”
“We did not invent the wheel, but we did reinvent its technology, to a point where it significantly improves the riding experience, helping users to go further with less pain and increased comfort,” CEO Daniel Barel has said to NoCamels.
SoftWheel is not only changing the lives of wheelchair users. Soon cyclists and drivers will benefit from the energy absorbing technology as well.
In bicycles, SoftWheel has seen some success. The company’s Fluent wheels for bikes are currently in the pilot stage, and electric bikes that used its wheels “completed a test track faster than with regular-spoke wheels — and had 16.4 percent more energy left in the battery pack,” making the ride more efficient and saving money and energy. This can be especially beneficial for bike-sharing companies, SoftWheel indicates.
SoftWheel is also adapting its revolutionary technology to the unique requirements of automobiles and trucks, improving the overall ride, performance, and energy-efficiency of individual vehicles and large fleets. While the company’s Enduro wheel for the automotive industry is still in a research and development stage, Marinov tells NoCamels working on cars will be a change of pace.
“The biggest difference when working on cars is that we have to coordinate with large car manufacturing companies,” she says. “Right now we are focused on making the professional connections and working with large manufacturing companies and hopefully in three to five years, we will be ready to implement the wheels.”
She adds, “We’re expecting great updates in terms of partnering with big players as early as the next few weeks.”