Toyota Mobility Foundation, partnering with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, announces finalists in a global, three-year Mobility Unlimited Challenge during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2019) in Las Vegas. Innovators from around the world submitted game-changing technologies to improve the lives of people with lower limb paralysis. Finalists include teams from the United Kingdom, United States, Japan, and Italy, with devices ranging from a hybrid exoskeleton on wheels to a powered wheelchair share scheme. Each of the 5 finalists receives a $500,000 grant to develop their idea, with the final winner receiving $1 million. The Toyota Mobility Foundation launched the $4 million global challenge in 2017 in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre.
Globally, millions of people are living with lower-limb paralysis, most commonly as a result of strokes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis. The World Health Organisation estimates there are between a quarter and half a million new cases of spinal cord injury globally every year.
The Challenge invited engineers, innovators, and designers from across the world to submit designs for game-changing technologies to improve the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis. Central to the Challenge is the importance of working with end-users to develop devices which will integrate seamlessly into their lives and environments while being comfortable and easy to use.
Taking Home the Big Prize
Each of the five finalists will receive a grant of $500,000 to develop their concept further. They will attend workshops, receive mentoring opportunities with engineering experts and collaborate with equipment users to help develop their concepts. The ultimate winner will be announced in Tokyo in 2020 and will receive $1 million.
The five finalists are: –
Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair, Phoenix Instinct (United Kingdom): an ultra-lightweight, self-balancing, intelligent wheelchair which eliminates painful vibrations. Using smart sensors, the chair will configure itself to what the user is doing so it remains in sync with how the user moves. It will have many smart functions never before seen in wheelchairs, for example intelligent, lightweight power assist to help make slopes easier to ascend.
The Evowalk, Evolution Devices (United States): a non-intrusive sleeve which goes around the user’s leg and has sensors that track walking motion and stimulate the right muscles at the right time to improve mobility. This personalised, timed muscle stimulation will also rehabilitate muscles over time.
Moby, Italdesign (Italy): the first mobility service created for wheelchair users, operating like a cycle share scheme in urban hubs. Offering a series of wheel-on electric devices, it will make travelling around cities much simpler and easier for people with lightweight manual wheelchairs. The service is accessible via an app-based share scheme.
Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion), Team Qolo, University of Tsukuba, Japan: this is a mobile exoskeleton on wheels which helps users to sit or stand with ease, effectively removing the ‘chair’ from ‘wheelchair’. Mobility is controlled using the upper body, allowing hands-free operation. The device enables users to travel around in a standing position, changing both physiological and social aspects of everyday living.
Quix, IHMC & MYOLYN (United States): a highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility, Quix uses modular actuation, perception technology from autonomous vehicles and control algorithms for balancing autonomous humanoid robots to deliver the mobility, safety and independence that current exoskeletons cannot provide.
A total of 80 entries were received from 28 countries and the finalists were chosen by a panel of expert judges including, from the UK, Sophie Morgan, television presenter and disability advocate, and Ruth Peachment, Occupational Therapy Clinical Specialist at the National Spinal Injuries Centre.
Dr. Eric Krotkov, Chief Science Officer at the Toyota Research Institute and one of the Challenge judges, said: “There are so many technological opportunities to explore approaches to alleviate challenges stemming from lower-limb paralysis. A competition like the Mobility Unlimited Challenge gets innovators to focus on the same problem to identify something of great common interest that serves society. I am excited by these finalists who have a breadth of technical approaches – wheelchairs, orthotics, braces and exoskeletons. I look forward to seeing how they will take these devices out of their conceptual stage to help our end users.”
Ryan Klem, Director of Programs for the Toyota Mobility Foundation commented: “These five finalists have shown real innovation driven by human-centred design. We think that the technology incorporated in these devices could change the lives of a huge number of people around the world, not just for those with lower-limb paralysis, but also those with a wider range of mobility needs. It will be fascinating to follow the teams’ journeys and see how the $500,000 grant will help them develop their ideas to bring them to market and into the hands of users.”
To ensure entries from organisations of all sizes, the Challenge also offered ten teams seed funding in the form of $50,000 Discovery Award grants during the entry period. Of the ten Discovery Award winners, four went on to be selected as finalists.
Charlotte Macken of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre said: “Current personal mobility devices are often unable to fully meet the needs of users due to limitations affecting functionality and usability. Historically, the pace of innovation is slow, due to small and fragmented markets and difficulties in getting new technology funded by health-care systems and insurers. This can make the field unattractive to the very people who could help change the world. We hope that challenges like this can inspire innovation and are excited to see how the five finalists use this opportunity to develop their ideas further.”
Recent Global Polling
As well as encouraging collaboration with end-users, the Toyota Mobility Foundation commissioned polling to help Challenge entrants understand the needs of wheelchair users. The research, carried out by ComRes, polled wheelchair users in five countries around the world (UK, US, Japan, India and Brazil) and found:
-89% of wheelchair users say they have experienced pain and discomfort as a result of their mobility devices
-45% say they experience back pain at least once a day
-31% say they experience shoulder pain at least once a day
-29% say they experience neck pain at least once a day
-29% say they experience repetitive strain injury (RSI)
-22% say they constantly experience back pain
-22% say they experience pressure sores
-89% of wheelchair users said they had experienced negative consequences as a result of using a wheelchair or mobility device when working or job hunting
-29% said they felt their talent had been wasted
-28% said they felt they had been held back in their career