Smart wheelchair

Background

Andrew Slorance is a pioneer in the development of wheelchairs. He founded Carbon Black Systems Limited, the company behind the revolutionary light-weight carbon fibre wheelchair that he himself designed.  Having set up a new company in 2015, Phoenix Instinct Ltd, his ultimate goal was to design an “Intelligent System” wheelchair that would have a responsive centre of gravity and other Intelligent System (IS) features - a total revolution of the wheelchair as we know it.
 

The idea was an intelligent manual wheelchair featuring a smart Centre of Gravity (CoG).  The system would self-adjust the wheelchair’s CoG so it was always the same as the user’s CoG.  The result would be a wheelchair with very little weight on the front wheels giving easier pushing and turning while also being very rearward stable.  For the first time ever, a wheelchair would be entirely in sync with the user’s body movements.

 

Challenge

Andrew wanted to work in collaboration with academics who had expertise in intelligent system engineering and carbon fibre engineering to undertake a feasibility study to determine if his idea of incorporating cutting edge smart systems into an old concept – the manual wheelchair - was practical and achievable. 

The analysis would shape Phoenix Instinct’s application to the Toyota Mobility Challenge* prize fund as well as demonstrating to Toyota that the company had academic support for the project.

 

Solution

Phoenix Instinct was referred to Interface from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and, by exhibiting great tenacity in finding the most appropriate academic partner for the company’s requirements, Kirsty Buchanan, Business Engagement Executive at Interface, was able to connect Andrew to the University of the West of Scotland (UWS). 

UWS have a long history of collaboration with external organisations to help drive innovation and deliver real economic, environmental and societal impact. Improving the health, well-being and mobility of wheelchair users through development of the next generation of SMART wheelchair technology represented both an academically challenging and worthy endeavour which UWS were happy to support.  The project was supported by the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences, whose expertise in advanced composites, rapid prototyping (including 3d printing) and product design was utilised throughout the project.

 

Benefits

The company achieved their goal in working with an academic partner to develop the Toyota Mobility Challenge application and, as a result, were one of five finalists successful in receiving a grant of $500k to develop their concept; as well as the opportunity to attend workshops, receive mentoring opportunities with engineering experts, and collaborate with end-users.  The finalists would ultimately pitch their concept to Toyota and the winner would receive a prize fund of a further $1 million.

 

*  The Challenge invited engineers, innovators and designers to submit ideas for game-changing technologies to improve the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis. Central to the Toyota-supported challenge was the need to work with end-users to develop devices that would integrate seamlessly into their lives and environments, while being comfortable and easy to use.

Andrew Slorance

"Highlands and Islands Enterprise introduced me to Interface where I met Kirsty Buchanan who made me aware of the different funding opportunities available to fund a collaboration with a university.  Kirsty worked with us every step of the way helping select which university would be the best for our project. I travelled with Kirsty to meet with academics at one university who responded to the initial enquiry but I didn’t feel the fit was right. Kirsty then introduced me to the team at UWS who were a better fit for our project. I never felt obligated to proceed and Kirsty was always available to assist. Kirsty then approached the KTP team at UWS to directly highlight this project as a potential KTP, which was agreed and quickly picked up by the team at UWS. The KTP scheme via Interface has worked so well we are now recruiting for a second KTP associate."

Andrew Slorance, CEO, Phoenix Instinct Ltd

Follow-On Activity

With continued support from Interface, Phoenix Instinct further developed their award-winning technology in partnership with UWS through a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP).

Andrew Slorance at Phoenix Instinct said: “Working with UWS KTP partnership brought the company specialist skills, knowledge, and University support that have been fundamental to the success of the project.  The KTP funding through Innovate UK is a fantastic programme that we recommend highly.”

Dr Tony Leslie, Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences at UWS, said: “It has been a pleasure to work with Andrew Slorance and Dr Jakub Rycerz on this KTP project. Andrew’s design is a step change in wheelchair development. Andrew has driven the project to ensure the project team never lost sight of how the ongoing design decisions could impact on wheelchair users in their daily lives, and that has been key to the project’s success.

“Recognition must also be given to KTP associate Jakub, whose contribution and commitment has been exceptional throughout the project, developing a number of innovations to ensure Andrew’s vision was realised.”

Phoenix Instinct were crowned the ultimate winners at a virtual, live-streamed event in December 2020.

 

Dr Stuart McKay looking into the camera

“I am delighted for the whole team behind this project, who, collectively, have developed this truly game-changing mobility solution, as well as delivering an exemplary knowledge transfer partnership project. I am extremely proud of the role UWS has played in Phoenix Instinct's success, and I would like to thank Kirsty Buchanan from Interface in particular for her pro-active promotion and making UWS aware of this partnership opportunity”

“Phoenix Instinct winning the Mobility Unlimited Challenge is the icing on the cake and testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone involved. We look forward to working with Phoenix Instinct in the future and have already started planning a second KTP with Andrew and his team.” 

Dr Stuart McKay, Senior KTP Manager | Business Innovation, University of the West of Scotland