Can you imagine how uncomfortable it would be to drive a car without a suspension? Now, think about being stuck like that everyday. That is the situation for many people in wheelchairs. A company from Israel has come up with an ingenious solution that goes on sale later this year, though. The Softwheel combines a suspension and wheel into a single unit.

According to Wired, the idea was the brainchild of an Israeli farmer who broke his pelvis but still wanted to work in the field. He began experimenting and came up with a way to combine shock absorbers and a wheel together in a way that worked on existing wheelchairs.

Softwheel developed the concept into two products – the Acrobat for wheelchairs and the Fluent for bicycles. Both designs use three shock absorbers that also function as spokes. According to an explanation on its website, usually the shocks are static. However, above a certain load, the center hub deflects around them to absorb bumps. Wired claims the production version will allow users to adjust the firmness or lock the spokes completely.

At the moment the company is focusing on just the two products, but there are future possible automotive applications. The company thinks the same concept could be applied to cars as well, but it admits to Wired that development could take a decade or more. The CEO even gave a presentation about the Softwheel to Daimler at an innovation meeting, though we've no word yet on where that might lead.

The Acrobat for wheelchairs goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year for about $2,000 per pair. Scroll down to see demonstrations in two videos.




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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      Jim R
      • 7 Months Ago
      That's a pretty damn ingenious idea. I'm not sure how useful it'd be on a bicycle as many road and off-road bikes already have suspension systems, but for a wheelchair user this looks like a godsend.
      SquareFour
      • 7 Months Ago
      It's about damn time! I dig ideas of real value like this. Best of all, it looks like the struts can be replaced when they eventually wear out. Good going, Israeli farmer!
      Omologato
      • 7 Months Ago
      As the wheel speed increases, damping will decrease because the centripetal force acting on the built-in suspension will make the wheels seem a lot heavier. You could even end up with a situation where the suspension remains in an offset position, making it ineffective at speed. Also, increased rotational mass will affect handling, acceleration, braking and fuel economy. This technology is really only meant for low speed operation.
      jonnybimmer
      • 7 Months Ago
      Hardly a new invention, auto engineers have played with such ideas since at least the early 1900's. Today though, there are many reasons why they wouldn't work for cars (ranging from high rotating/unsprung mass to the lack of control we have with modern suspensions) and no real benefits for using them. For slower vehicles though, there definitely could be some use.
      RWD
      • 7 Months Ago
      Heavier in the worst possible place and would create kind of an expanding and contracting contact patch, wouldn't it? I think it's very innovative, but not so much for cars, or high speeds/loads.
      Michele Ferrari
      • 7 Months Ago
      "take this step forward" on the ending of the wheelchair "commercial".. ouch
      Steve Rogers
      • 7 Months Ago
      Yeah that bicycle looks incredibly dangerous the way that rear wheel is flopping around behind him. There is no axial strength at all the wheel would fold so easy. And I would like to see how they figure they are increasing the efficiency when bicycles already achieve 99% mechanical efficiency.
      New Shel
      • 7 Months Ago
      This design only works when there is no "sag". It may be an option for vehicles that are typically 'rigid' but need some compliance for safety. Cars sit down into their travel so that the wheels can move both up and down. If this design had any sag in it, a great deal of drag would be created as the damping units cycled and that energy was converted to heat. (that's why tires heat up, btw. They act like this system) These concepts come up all the time, and they go nowhere.
      Jerry
      • 7 Months Ago
      Pretty cool! Not sure if practical for a car though. That design could not handle side loads like you would see in a hard turn or corners.
      Bernard
      • 7 Months Ago
      Or instead of spending $2,000 on crappy in wheel suspension, you can just spend under $2,000 for a chair with a real suspension system like the Quickie GT Wheelchair for $1,625.
        SquareFour
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        That's probably a good point, but I don't know a thing about wheelchairs. Could also be the Quickie GT is a POS and most wheelchair-bound folks would prefer to add these wheels to their existing chairs. I have no idea.
      Hernan
      • 7 Months Ago
      Looks like BMX bikes could greatly benefit! Amazing on the wheelchair.
      Ducman69
      • 7 Months Ago
      This is in no way new. We've had soft wheels for at minimum a decade now, although they typically used simple spring systems. The issue is that they will be relegated to low speed devices since you get balance issues at speed. They also proved to be inadequate at replacing suspensions on larger vehicles, and heavier than just a good suspension and lightweight strong wheel. Never seen it applied to a wheelchair though, which seems like a smart idea since there really isn't much room for a suspension.
        Lachmund
        • 7 Months Ago
        @Ducman69
        on a wheelchair it seems like a very smart idea..especially since the driver applies the power directly to the wheels and therefore would be unefected by any possible power loss
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