Israeli engineering firm helps start-ups make new technologies for people with disabilities

In light of the International Day of People with Disabilities, Israeli engineering expert Dvir Brand speaks with the 'Post' about his company's various medical technology projects.

The 'Step-up' solution applies an extendable pair of arches that attach to a motorized wheelchair to help users overcome elevated obstacles (photo credit: PR)
The 'Step-up' solution applies an extendable pair of arches that attach to a motorized wheelchair to help users overcome elevated obstacles
(photo credit: PR)
The trends in Israeli innovation in the industry of medical devices are turning more “from sick care to health care” and are increasingly focused on dealing with the user’s way of life than saving lives, an Israeli engineering expert explains to The Jerusalem Post.
In light of the International Day of People with Disabilities on Thursday, Dvir Brand, vice president of research and development at Ziv-Av Engineering (ZAE), says that Israeli innovation in medical devices is burgeoning as the country continues to make a significant impact on the growing worldwide industry.
Israel is recognized as the world leader per capita in start-ups and patents for medical devices.
The Jewish state has more than 700 companies in the field, comprising 53 percent of Israel’s total life sciences industry, according to the 2015 report by the Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI) umbrella organization for hi-tech and life sciences.
“It is challenging technology because you are dealing with customers and learning from each project about the difficulties and obstacles involved in their day-to-day lives,” Brand tells the Post.
However, he underlines that “these projects usually have an added value of helping society. It’s more rewarding designing wheelchairs than some kind of weapon.”
Brand notes that recent progress in the fields of electronic and motion control have made it possible to implement new medical technologies.
“Aerospace and medical technologies are similar in tactical approach,” he says, noting that for both user safety and experience, product control and quality assurance are vital elements of the multidisciplinary engineering feats needed.
Among its expansive operations for clients such as HP, RAFAEL and Israel Aerospace Industries, ZAE has partnered in recent years with various start-ups and companies to produce dozens of medical and biotech devices. The company says these products have the capabilities to impact the daily lives of millions of people with physical disabilities around the world.
Based in the Be'erot Yitzhak suburb of Tel Aviv, the 25-year-old engineering company focuses on manufacturing solutions that are user-friendly, affordable and sleekly-designed to meet not only the issue of mobility, but improve the psychological affect on users.
Already on the market is a line of colorful plastic wheelchairs intended for distribution among children with disabilities in developing countries that was manufactured by ZAE as part of a pro bono endeavor with the humanitarian organization Wheelchairs of Hope.
The light-weight structure is designed to be meet World Health Organization guidelines, while meeting the strength and sizing needs of children’s smaller frames and functioning with more portability than standard wheelchairs.
With a weight of 10 kilograms ( 22 pounds) the specially-designed children’s wheel chair is suitable for a maximum user weight of 40 kilogram (88 pound) and costs $100.
ZAE is currently engaged in a number of developing projects, including the ‘Step-up’ mechanism which amplifies the traditional electric wheelchair with an extendable pair of arches that attach to a motorized wheelchair and address the issue of climbing stairs and elevated structures.
The attachable system operates without changing the wheelchair’s rotational axis, diameter or weight. 
The concept for the Step-up components was brought to ZAE by musician Ilan Aviv, who initially thought of the idea to help his beloved in-laws.
While standard electric wheelchairs are heavy and difficult to manually raise and lower, the Step-up include sensory technology that allows the operator to ascend and descend obstacles with a height of up to 20 centimeters. 
Also in ZAE’s repertoire of emerging technologies is the power assisted reciprocating gait orthosis (PARGO) designed by Yaad Orthopedics.
The mechanical exoskeletal device allows those who have disabilities in their lower limbs to walk with the assistance of an independent power source.
The modular structure is adaptable to different sizes, depending on the user’s joints and is minimal in size and weight to convenience the operator.
Another innovative R&D project that ZAE is partnered with, is the firm SoftWheel, which seeks to literally “reinvent the wheel” with its shock-absorbing concept that offers a sleek and more comfortable experience for people who use wheelchairs.
The SoftWheel technology applies a selective suspension mechanism, similar to a human knee, that cushions impact with less bumps as the wheel absorbs shock instead of the user’s body when an obstacle is encountered.
The user can pre-set threshold requirements, which are only enacted when encountering an obstacle, after which the wheel regains energy-saving rigidity and responsiveness. The SoftWheel solution is adjustable to fit any wheelchair frame and provides 360 degree protection at any angle.