IIT-M Designs Customisable Wheelchair that Transforms into an Electric Vehicle

“In India how often do you see a wheelchair user at a school, at an office, at a shop, or a theatre? 95% of all wheelchairs sold in the country are based on a one-size-fits-all concept, and that restricts mobility, damages health, and lowers self-confidence for many people,” says Swostik Dash, a graduate of IIT Madras, and the co-founder of NeoMotion, a startup that is focussed on developing solutions for the physically disabled.

To that end, NeoMotion has developed Neofly, a personalised wheelchair, and Neobolt, a battery-powered clip-on device that converts NeoFly into a safe, roadworthy electric vehicle.

A user riding the NeoFly attached with NeoBolt.

About the startup

Swostik has a BTech in Mechanical Engineering and an MTech in Product Design from IIT-Madras. During his time there, he worked on many projects which revolved around developing assistive solutions to empower the physically disabled, and they helped him understand the problems that people with disabilities face.

“While researching those projects, I spoke to many wheelchair users around the country, and learned that only a very few people with disabilities can go outdoors and be independent. Most of them needed the help of another person to use the wheelchair,” says Swosthik.

He graduated in 2013, but kept working closely with projects in IIT. Finally, in 2016, along with Sudha Srinivasan, the founder of the Rehabilitation Research and Device Development lab at IIT-M who has been working in the assistive devices space for over 25 years, he started NeoMotion.

“We started with seed funding from Villigro, IIT-Madras’s incubation cell, and the Rehabilitation Research and Device Development lab at IIT Madras, currently funded by TTK Prestige. We also received a grant from Imprint India Program,” says Swostik.

Today, there are 16 employees working part of the organisation which is headquartered in Chennai.

NeoFly, the Customisable Wheelchair

Neofly is a wheelchair that can be personalised to each individual’s requirements. From adjusting its height and width, to the kind of wheels, and even colour, Neofly can be adjusted in 18 different ways to fit each person’s body and environment.

The NeoFly.

“Compared to regular wheelchairs, NeoFly covers three to five times more distance for every push owing to the right posture, rigid frame, and ergonomic push-rim. The wheelchair is designed to the user’s body measurements making the wheelchair compact. Only 30% of the space is occupied by the seat, which also enhances accessibility. Apart from that, the user can customise the colour, even to something funky,” says Swostik adding that the seats are fitted with our trademark, NeoCushion, which has curves and grooves according to the person’s legs which enhances the grip and stability.

To customise the wheelchair, NeoMotion has a platform, which is not live yet, where users can select the modifications they need.

“The customisation happens remotely. First, the user would have to take measurements of their body based on short tutorial videos. This is to ensure the correct dimensions. Second, they have to answer 40 questions about their physical conditions, medical conditions, and the environment they live in. This helps us understand their requirements better. Finally, we send them a visual representation of the wheelchair along with detailed specifications, after which they can finalise the order,” says Swostik.

The device will be manufactured at their factory in Chennai and shipped. If the user requires any modifications to be made, Swostik says it can be done by themselves with the help of detailed tutorial videos he has prepared. But, if the user is unable to do so, he will take the product back, make the necessary modifications, and ship it again.

After three years of research and development, the product was launched in November 2019, and about 125 people are using it. While the base price is Rs 46,750, it varies depending on the upgrades made by the user.

NeoBolt

After Neofly, Swostik decided that he did not only want to provide his customers with a personalised wheelchair experience. He wanted to enable physically challenged people to be independent.

“Most physically disabled people choose to use modified scooters or cars to navigate, but they need help getting on and off the vehicle or they need to struggle and lift themselves on top. NeoBolt is a battery-powered clip-on device that converts NeoFly into a safe, roadworthy electric vehicle. It eliminates the process of the user transferring into other vehicles. Instead, It can be independently attached by the user within seconds, using their hands,” says Swosthik.

Apart from that, the fitting also has two front wheels which are placed at an elevated angle to make it accessible on rough terrain. The device, powered by a lithium-ion battery, can go to a maximum speed of 25 km per hour and covers 30 km per charge. The battery can be charged on residential power and takes four hours for one full charge.

“It will empower wheelchair users with a low-cost mode of outdoor mobility when compared to modified cars, or scooters,” says Swostik.

Justin Jesudas, a resident of Hyderabad who works at an IT company is also a paralympic swimmer and rifle shooter. He took part in the 2018 Asian Paralympic Games and was placed in the top 15 in the 50 meter Men’s freestyle category. He started using a wheelchair 10 years ago after a spinal cord injury.

Three years ago, he started using NeoFly and NeoBolt because he wanted a solution to help him navigate with ease.

“Although I have a modified car to help me move around the city, it is not convenient when I have to go to the grocery store at the end of my lane, or my parent’s home which is a few streets away. It would take me 15 minutes to get into the car and load my wheelchair. With NeoBolt, within a few minutes, I can just fix the device myself and carry on with work. The wheels are of high quality which helps me navigate on bad roads, and the two wheels in front help the wheelchair climb over uneven surfaces with ease. The device is not only customised according to your physical dimensions but also based on your medical conditions.”

Justin riding the NeoBolt and NeoFly.

If you wish to place an order for the NeoFly or Neobolt, you can contact NeoMotion at [email protected]

Image courtesy: Neomotion

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