Meet the company who has, literally, reinvented the wheel
The personal mobility device sector is booming. But there’s a problem. Most mobility devices still don’t offer their users a comfortable or flexible experience. Mohsen Falahi from EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory has developed Allure - a new wheel technology – to help people with mobility difficulties rediscover lost freedom of movement. In this interview, he talks about the benefits of his invention and how Innogrant will help bring his vision to life.
Our world is getting older. By 2050, it’s estimated that one in six people globally will be over 65 years old. The number of people aged over 80 is projected to triple. Our aging world has several implications – for economic growth, disease levels, and there’s a huge personal impact as well. We may feel more tired, weaker. We may have problems moving about or find we’re more susceptible to getting ill. Age affects each of us differently but luckily, there are many measures we can put in place to make life a little easier.
Wheelchairs have been around since the time of Confucius, in the 5th Century BC. The first electric chair was invented in 1924. In the early 60s, mobility scooters became more mainstream. These chairs were designed to support people who, while able to walk, couldn’t travel long distances by foot.
Assistive mobility is big business. By 2022, it’s estimated the market will be worth over $7b a year. However, despite technological advances, there are still fundamental challenges with mobility devices. The main one being, despite the name, they’re not that mobile. While they can move forwards, backwards, and go round corners, they tend to be bulky and difficult to manoeuvre in small spaces.
Mohsen Falahi, a scientific collaborator at EPFL’s Biorobotics Laboratory and inventor of Allure, believes he has the answer. We spoke to him about his latest project.
How did the Allure project start?
I’ve always been interested in robotics. I started working on this kind of project when I was 13. By the time I was 17, I had my first patent. When I started University, I started to understand how much more could be done with my ideas.
So, tell us more about Allure.
Our vision is to shape the future of personal mobility. Firstly, I concentrated on the most important part of any mobility device, the wheels. In a normal mobility device you can go forwards and backwards, of course. You can go sideways but it’s not the easier or quickest process. My wheel technology allows a user the freedom to move wherever they want to in a safe and elegant way. Our patented wheel and new chassis design means we can give back lost freedom to people with mobility disability or difficulties.
Where do you see Allure being used?
There are so many possibilities for Allure. In the first instance, I can see the design being used for people with acute disabilities (like a broken leg), or even in hospitals to help move people around quicker. Future applications are limited only by our imagination! They could be used as an alternative to cars – imagine a metro train made up of Allure devices, allowing people to travel in comfort and speed while cutting down on pollution and infrastructure costs. Anything is possible!
How will the Innogrant help you?
The Innogrant will help us develop our final prototype – something we can start to go to investors with. We’ve got a bit of safety testing to complete but then I hope we can put a prototype into a real life situation. We are working with a rehabilitation centre here in Switzerland and its patients are already giving us really valuable feedback on the design, functionality etc. By the end of May, we hope to have our first 10 units out with our customers.
As well as the prototypes, we’re looking to expand our team to share our journey and really accelerate our growth. In order to realise our dream of a driverless mobility device, we need the expertise to develop the right algorithms, create sensors and so on. I’ll be taking advantage of the supreme talent at EPFL and offering internships. I’m also looking to get a co-founder with a strong business background on board in 2021 to help look after the business and finance side of things. This’ll allow me to focus more on the technology and our strategy for success.
Allure is based in EPFL’s Biorobotics Lab under the supervision of Professor Auke Jan Ikspeert. Find out more on their website
For more information on Innogrants and details on how to apply, visit the Startup Unit website.