IntelliWheels, a medical equipment company in Champaign, IL, just received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The money is a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research Grant that the company plans to use in developing products that would give wheelchair users the option to shift into high and low gears, giving them the ability to independently maneuver themselves over hills, uneven surfaces and longer distances.
The company was founded in 2010 and already has one product on the market – the X2, a set of single-gear wheels that wheelchair users can buy. IntelliWheels co-founder Marissa Siero told the News-Gazette, “Those wheels make it twice as easy for them to push themselves forward and backward”.
The new product in the works builds on that foundation and will hopefully give manual wheelchairs a lightweight and dynamic functionality.
“If someone is struggling to push themselves, this allows them more independence, going uphill, over carpet and over thresholds in a house,” Siero said.
Working with IntelliWheels will be researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin as well as staff from TiLite, an ultra-light wheelchair manufacturer in Pasco, WA.
In addition to finding out if gear shifting works, researchers are also interested in studying how the movement affects joint pain. A team at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the Rehabilitation Innovation Motion Analysis Lab plans to recruit 15 veterans with spinal cord injuries to see if geared wheels do make manual wheelchairs easier for a user to push.
IntelliWheels co-founder and President Scott Daigle told the News-Gazette, “We’re proud, happy and excited to take the next step with the company. What this grant allows us to do is get out and develop the best devices available for those who use wheelchairs.”