“Disability need not be an obstacle to success”
~ Stephen Hawking wrote in the first-ever world disability report back in 2011
Disability is not a hindrance and one of the most influential wheelchair-bound physicists of modern times, Stephen Hawking is certainly proof of that. With the view to empower the differently-abled community, the Indian Institute of Madras (IIT-M) has developed and designed the first indigenous motorized wheelchair vehicle that not only is put to use on smooth roads but even on uneven terrains and rough-surfaced roads. Named ‘NeoBolt’, the motorized wheelchair aims to provide convenience, safety, and a low-cost mode of outdoor mobility. NeoBolt is designed and developed by a team of researchers led by Prof. Sujatha Srinivasan, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Madras, and the technology has been commercialized through a start-up called ‘NeoMotion’. The Startup has been co-founded by Prof. Sujatha Srinivasan and an IIT Madras Alumnus Mr. Swostik Sourav Dash, who is the CEO of NeoMotion.
In an exclusive with PBNS, Mr. Swostik Sourav Dash, CEO of NeoMotion explained the application of NeoBolt and what the problem it solves. He said, “For a wheelchair user, it is unique to have a mobility vehicle that works indoor and outdoor. So, whenever a person has to go out, he or she has to take a modified scooty, or a car, or any other mode of transport, and for this, the person would need help from someone to shift from wheelchair to car and so on. So, there is always a constant dependency. NeoBolt basically eliminates this dependency. With NeoBolt, the person can go out anywhere, anytime, without taking any help.”
Further, Mr. Dash explained how the field trials that started in 2016 led to the development of NeoBolt and NeoFly. He said, “The design goes back to 2016. We were developing a production called standing wheelchair. During the course of development, we interacted with around 200 wheelchair users across 40 locations in India. We were constantly looking for other problems and challenges. There are two problems that were identified. First, the people are confined to their homes and the reason for that is, they don’t have a good mode of indoor mobility. 3,00,000 wheelchairs are sold in India and 95% of them are on the concept of ‘one size fits. As a consequence of using such a wheelchair, they damage the health, they restrict mobility, and the self-confidence of the user goes for a toss. When it comes to outdoor mobility, we have earlier discussed how there is constant dependence of the user on other people. When we decided to build NeoBolt, the person should be able to use it in the regular and daily commute. So, we have built it similar to a road bike. It has suspension, ruggedness, and durability, and can handle the roads. It also has road safety features including indicators, mirror, horn, reverse function, seat belt. The goal is to provide a seamless mobility solution.”
“So, in field trials, we found out that these were the challenges, and hence, we need to come up with a solution that takes care of both the problems. NeoBolt, is the outdoor mobility solution, along with it, an indoor mobility solution was developed named as NeoFly.”
NeoFly is a personalized wheelchair that has 18 customizations on it which are dependent on:
– The measurements of the person
– The environment of the person
– The health conditions
Based on all these assessments, a total of 18 customizations are done on the product. For example, the seat-width, breadth, backrest height, footrest position, the kind of tyres, the color that someone would like to choose for the kind of work, etc., explained Mr. Dash.
He also mentioned the benefits that the users have witnessed by using such a customised wheelchair:
1. A good posture: Issues related to back pain, shoulder pain were reduced and minimized over a period of time.
2. Easy to propel: As it’s a manual wheelchair, the user will push it manually. So, it is important that the push doesn’t waste a lot of energy for the user. How much energy you are putting into the wheelchair, should cover the distance. So, three to five times more distance with every push is covered through NeoBolt as compared to a conventional wheelchair.
3. Compact Designing: India has infrastructural barriers like narrow lifts, bathroom doors, etc. So, making it compact ensures that these places are covered without difficulty.
NeoBolt, which is powered by a Lithium-Ion Battery, has a maximum speed of 25kmph and travels up to 25km per charge. Throughout the process, the IIT-M researchers collaborated with various organizations and hospitals working among people with locomotor disabilities and hence, built the products factoring in their experiences. NeoBolt is designed to enable wheelchair users to go out into the world and explore life. It eliminates the need to transfer into other vehicles and can be independently attached by the user within seconds.