Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I love gadgets. Either electronic, or mechanical, or even retro old school “technology is bad!” gadgets. Maybe it’s more of a fad? Like, paintball in college….surfing… drawing… woodworking… ok, there is a definite trend.
Anyway, to the point. My first clinical at Johns Hopkins, the physical therapist and I were chatting and we discussed when and if I’d need to be in a wheelchair. My first comment to him was, “I want a fast wheelchair. Seriously.” The little chuckle from my lovely wife confirmed that it’s a gadget, and of course I wanted one. We didn’t talk more about it until a few weeks later when I started looking into the chariot that would become my throne later in life. That went more like this: “Man, these chairs are ugly. And holy cow they look heavy… and they are all so slow!” OK fast forward to the now, and where we are. Without going into the cynical reasons behind the situation, what I’ve decided is that modern tech is not supporting people with disabilities.
There, I said it. Here’s why: Praise God, giant leaps are being made in medicine. Research and development are finding new cures for difficult diseases, and we shouldn’t stop that. What I mean is the people that don’t have a cure, or that are mobility impaired. The mobility industry has not modernized, has not taken advantage of technology to help out those people. Let’s talk about wheelchairs. In summation, modern wheelchairs are steel behemoths, using lead batteries and foam filled tires. We get told which ones we need and which insurance will pay for, and then we adjust our daily lives to fit the wheelchair.
Now, I’m speaking from some experience. We were gifted a trip and my lovely wife made sure we rented a “lightweight” scooter so I could get around. And that scooter was still heavy…. and only had a 6hr use time. What?! I had to baby the throttle and NOT use it often so to save battery so it would last all day, and even then, it died on my or the fuse flipped because I “pushed it too hard”.
My trusty steed
OK, so what, Joe? At the end of the day, profits drive companies, right? And, there have been big improvements in power recline and tilt capabilities, right? Yeah, you are right, and I don’t want to take that away.
But, there are F1 and Indy and Formula E race cars out there that go 200mph and more, and they are made completely out of carbon fiber. There are self driving cars that take you where you want to go with only minor monitoring from the driver. There are electric cars that can go 0-200mph with a 350 mile range. Heck, there are go-karts made out of carbon fiber. The art of the possible is more pronounced right now than ever before! But I got 6 hours from a lead battery, a heavy steel frame, and an unresponsive motor with a top speed of 4mph. And to be frank… man it’s ugly.
I know. This is a fad. I have ALS, and won’t be able to go fast and eventually won’t even be able to drive a wheelchair around. Be happy with what I have, and can get, right? Well… why? I see a niche in the market that is unaddressed. I see a need that isn’t being met for people with disabilities that need power wheelchairs. There is great opportunity!
Well, I want to make the carbon fiber electric wheelchair. I want it to be beautiful, light, efficient, high endurance, and fast. And it wouldn’t be for me only. A carbon fiber base/monocoque can be mass produced and seating accommodations can be customized. Lithium type batteries are getting cheaper and more and more companies are testing them. Now, while I have time, I want to make this a reality for now and beyond, not just for ALS patients but anyone that needs a wheelchair. It might be a fad that fades, but I hope not.
Maybe you all can help me push myself to get it built! Team effort?
I promise I won’t be negative every post – hopefully this one captures my passion for this particular problem – I feel very deeply. Hopefully not too angry.