After launching its $4 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge to spur innovation in technology for those with lower limb paralysis, the Toyota Mobility Foundation is promoting a crowdsourcing campaign to get individuals with disabilities to sound off about what kinds of technology would most benefit them.
Using the hashtag #MyMobilityUnlimited users are asked to post their wants and needs for better mobility on social media with the aim of inspiring inventors and those wishing to enter the challenge with ideas for user-centered technology. Toyota commissioned a recent survey of wheelchair users in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Japan and Brazil, that found significant percentages experience pain as a result of their mobility device (89 percent), have been unable to find an accessible toilet (43 percent), have been refused access to public transport (23 percent) and are frustrated by out of date assistive technologies (30 percent).
“This research expresses the urgent need for innovation in this area. It’s surprising that with all of the technology we have today, we still have people in constant pain as a result of their mobility devices,” says Ryan Klem, Director of Programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation. “The comments we are receiving through social media show the kinds of developments that people want to see and we hope the Challenge will result in genuinely life-changing technologies.”
Toyota Mobility Foundation is marshaling significant resources in pursuit of this innovation. In addition to the funding, the foundation has brought on a number of high-level athletes and media personalities – including Tatyana McFadden, Mik Scarlet, Ade Adepitan and Mallory Weggemann, among others – to serve as ambassadors and generate publicity and interest for the challenge across the globe.
We talked with McFadden just a few days after she finished second in a blisteringly fast London Marathon, less than two weeks after she won the Boston Marathon. As someone who spends so much time traveling internationally, McFadden’s thoughts for better mobility turn instantly to air travel. “I would love to see something for an airline, so I can get on and off the plane by myself, independently,” she says. “Clearly, people with lower-limb paralysis are not a priority, so it’s not fair that I have to pay for another flight or miss an event because I didn’t receive help, and that’s happened numerous times.”
In his #MyMobilityUnlimited video, British television presenter Mik Scarlet points out that technological innovation is only one part of potential solutions for better mobility. “I think that for every … power chair we invent, we need to also make sure that all the buildings around us are level access, and for every pair of super-groovy robot exoskeleton legs that we invent, we need to make sure that stairs have lifts next to them.”
Already, the challenge is leading to some unique ideas. On April 11, Toyota Mobility Foundation announced the winners of the Discovery Awards — $50,000 given to 10 teams to help enter the challenge. Among those receiving the awards were semi-autonomous gaze-based drive system for power wheelchairs, a self-balancing manual wheelchair designed to eliminate constant ground contact with the front casters, next-gen e-powered rear wheels for a manual wheelchair, a variety of new exoskeletons and even a hover board that can accommodate a manual wheelchair.
The deadline for entries to the challenge is August 15, so if you have a brilliant idea or just a pipe-dream for a better way to get around, get on social media and share it with the world. People are listening.
New Mobility will be following the challenge until the final winner is announced at Tokyo 2020. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date on the latest news and innovations.