Softwheel product specialist Dror Cohen test-drives a wheelchair fitted with Acrobat wheels. (All photos: Softwheel)

Shock-absorbing wheel eases wheelchairs over rough terrain

Israeli farmer assembled a team of experts to design the innovative new wheel.

When Israeli farmer and entrepreneur Gilad Wolf broke his leg several years ago, being in a wheelchair didn’t stop him from venturing out to his fields and checking on crops.

But after a few rocky encounters, he decided there had to be a better way to maneuver over rough terrain in a wheelchair. So he did what anyone with experience in mechanics would do – he made a new wheel.

He started a company, Softwheel, in 2011. He found support in life sciences firm RAD BioMed Accelerator Group, based in Tel Aviv. With RAD's state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal, Wolf built a team of engineers and designers. Soon after, his product, the Acrobat, was born.

The hub absorbs most shock (Photo: Softwheel) The Acrobat is a shock-absorbing wheel invented by Gilad Wolf and his team at Softwheel.

The Acrobat doesn't exactly "reinvent the wheel," as the cliche goes, but it does improve upon it. Eliane Rozanes, one of the Acrobat’s engineers, said it has a built-in symmetrical and selective suspension system. In layman's terms, that means it takes the bumps so you don't have to.

“First of all, it is symmetric to absorb shock in any direction," Rozanes told From the Grapevine. "Second, selective suspension means if you drive normally on flat surfaces, there’s no suspension unless encountering an obstacle."

It also can be retrofitted to any wheelchair design, she said.

“Selective suspension is the key to the mechanism because constant suspension creates loss of energy, making pushing more strenuous. Only when encountering an object does the suspension system activate, making the inside of the wheel, the hub, move and absorb most of the shock instead of the wheelchair user’s body,” she said.

acrobatwheelchair The Acrobat wheel can be fitted to any wheelchair, its designers say.

To ensure that its product lived up to user standards, Softwheel turned to Dror Cohen, who became a paraplegic after a car accident in 1992. Cohen eventually became a decorated athlete, leading Israel to the gold medal in sailing (sonar class) in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece.

Cohen now works as Softwheel’s product specialist, testing the Acrobat prototype as well as providing advice and guidance.

Dror Cohen, Softwheel Product Specialist (Photo: Softwheel) Dror Cohen, a paraplegic athlete, is Softwheel's product specialist.

“In the past, if I wanted to go down the sidewalk or over any big bump in a regular wheelchair, I’d feel it a lot on my back, and it would really hurt. You do it a couple of times a day each day, a week, a month, a year – you’re talking about thousands of times,” Cohen told From the Grapevine. “With Acrobat, it's all absorbed into the wheel and not in the back, creating a better sensation when riding a wheelchair.”

Softwheel is planning to release Acrobat for commercial sale in the next few months and is working with healthcare providers worldwide for better distribution to those in need.

Meanwhile, Rozanes said the company is developing a prototype for bicycles called the Fluent and hopes to move on to other devices down the road.

The Fluent (Photo: Softwheels) The prototype for Fluent, Softwheel's selective suspension bicycle.

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Shock-absorbing wheel eases wheelchairs over rough terrain
Wheelchair users discover a smoother ride with Softwheel's shock-absorbing wheel that uses a symmetric and selective suspension system.