“In India how often do you see a wheelchair user at a school, at an office, at a shop, or a theatre? 95% of all wheelchairs sold in the country are based on a one-size-fits-all concept, and that restricts mobility, damages health, and lowers self-confidence for many people,” says Swostik Dash, a graduate of IIT Madras, and the co-founder of NeoMotion, a startup that is focussed on developing solutions for the physically disabled.
To that end, NeoMotion has developed NeoFly, a personalised wheelchair, and NeoBolt, a battery-powered clip-on device that converts NeoFly into a safe, roadworthy electric vehicle.
About the startup
Swostik has a BTech in Mechanical Engineering and an MTech in Product Design from IIT-Madras. During his time there, he worked on many projects which revolved around developing assistive solutions to empower the physically disabled, and they helped him understand the problems that people with disabilities face.
“While researching those projects, I spoke to many wheelchair users around the country, and learned that only a very few people with disabilities can go outdoors and be independent. Most of them needed the help of another person to use the wheelchair,” says Swostik.
He graduated in 2013, but kept working closely with projects in IIT. Finally, in 2016, along with Sujatha Srinivasan, the founder of the Rehabilitation Research and Device Development lab at IIT-M who has been working in the assistive devices space for over 25 years, he started NeoMotion.
“The product development has been supported by the TTK Center for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development and Imprint India Program of the Government of India. We received seed funding from IITM Incubation Cell and Villgro,” says Swostik.
Today, there are 16 employees working part of the organisation which is headquartered in Chennai.
NeoFly, the Customisable Wheelchair
NeoFly is a wheelchair that can be personalised to each individual’s requirements. From adjusting its height and width, to the kind of wheels, and even colour, NeoFly can be adjusted in 18 different ways to fit each person’s body and environment.
“Compared to regular wheelchairs, NeoFly covers three to five times more distance for every push owing to the right posture, rigid frame, and ergonomic push-rim. The wheelchair is designed to the user’s body measurements making the wheelchair compact. The overall size is 30% smaller, which enhances accessibility. Apart from that, the user can customize the colour,” says Swostik, adding that the seats are fitted with their trademark, NeoCushion, which has curves and grooves according to the person’s legs which enhances the grip and stability.
“Every NeoFly wheelchair is customized. The customization happens remotely. First, the user would have to take measurements of their body based on tutorial videos. This is to ensure the correct dimensions. Second, they have to answer a structured questionnaire about their health, medical conditions and the environment they live in. This helps us understand their requirements better. Finally, we send them a visual representation of the wheelchair along with detailed specifications, after which we finalize the order,” says Samson Daniel, User Champion at NeoMotion.
The device will be manufactured at their factory in Chennai and shipped. If the user requires any modifications to be made, Samson says it can be done by themselves with the help of detailed tutorial videos NeoMotion has prepared.
After three years of research and development, the product was launched in November 2019, and about 125 people are using it. While the base price is Rs 46,750, it varies depending on the upgrades made by the user.
After NeoFly, NeoMotion decided that they did not only want to provide wheelchair users with a personalised wheelchair experience, but also wanted to enable physically challenged people to be independent.
“The products presently available for wheelchair users for outdoor mobility are modified scooters or modified cars. But wheelchair users often need help in getting into and out of the vehicle. NeoBolt is a battery-powered clip-on device that converts NeoFly into a safe, roadworthy electric vehicle. It eliminates the process of the user transferring into other vehicles. Instead, it can be independently attached by the user within seconds, using their hands,” says Swostik.
Apart from that, the fitting also has two front wheels which are placed at an elevated angle to make it accessible on rough terrain. The device, powered by a lithium-ion battery, can go to a maximum speed of 25 km per hour and covers 30 km per charge. The battery can be charged on residential power and takes four hours for one full charge.
“It will empower wheelchair users with a low-cost mode of outdoor mobility when compared to modified cars, or scooters,” says Swostik.
Justin Jesudas, a resident of Hyderabad who works at an IT company is also a paralympic swimmer and rifle shooter. He took part in the 2018 Asian Paralympic Games and was placed in the top 15 in the 50 meter Men’s freestyle category. He started using a wheelchair 10 years ago after a spinal cord injury.
Three years ago, he started using NeoFly and NeoBolt because he wanted a solution to help him navigate with ease.
“Although I have a modified car to help me move around the city, it is not convenient when I have to go to the grocery store at the end of my lane, or my parent’s home which is a few streets away. It would take me 15 minutes to get into the car and load my wheelchair. With NeoBolt, within a few minutes, I can just fix the device myself and carry on with work. The wheels are of high quality which helps me navigate on bad roads, and the two wheels in front help the wheelchair climb over uneven surfaces with ease. The device is not only customised according to your physical dimensions but also based on your medical conditions.”
If you wish to place an order for the NeoFly or NeoBolt, you can contact NeoMotion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy: NeoMotion