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The Phoenix I ultralightweight “smart wheelchair” was named the winner of the $1 million Toyota Mobility Challenge on Dec. 17, 2020. Designed by innovator and wheelchair user Andrew Slorance, the chair consists of a carbon fiber frame onto which add-ons can be plugged in based on the users’ needs.
“The judges were impressed by the way the device incorporated intelligent systems in its design in a way that represents a true advance for the wheelchair and could see it having a clear route to market,” said Ryan Klem, the director of programs for the Toyota Mobility Foundation.
“It’s unbelievable. I’m just absolutely overwhelmed,” says Slorance, whose other inventions include the Carbon Black Wheelchair and the Phoenix Instinct wheelchair-compatible travel bags. His team was one of five finalists that received $500,000 in 2019 to take their ideas to prototype stage. The other finalists included Quix, an advanced exoskeleton; Qolo, a standing, lean-to-steer power wheelchair; Evowalk, a wearable stimulator for foot drop; and Wheem-I, a wheel-on, semi-autonomous mobility device that provides ride sharing for manual wheelchair users.
Slorance’s team plans to use the $1 million prize to bring the chair from prototype to finished product, ready to be sold to wheelchair users across the world. Slorance says that amount of money is enough to bring the chair to market quickly, with as little as 18 to 24 months “before we’re actually seeing butts on seats.” That’s a remarkable turnaround, especially considering the technological sophistication of the Phoenix I. Furthermore, his aim is for the cost to be in line with other ultralightweight chairs currently on the market, so that it’s reimbursable by insurance. “There’s no point at all in developing a $15,000 manual chair that no one can pay for,” he says.