Israeli startup reinvents the wheel

A newfangled wheel has begun rolling out of an Israeli startup’s production line, aiming to provide its users with a much more comfortable ride.

A man in a wheelchair [Illustrative]. (photo credit: Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
A man in a wheelchair [Illustrative].
(photo credit: Carlos Jasso/Reuters)
A newfangled wheel has begun rolling out of an Israeli start-up’s production line, aiming to provide its users, be they on wheelchairs, bicycles or jumbo jets, with a much more comfortable ride.
With a goal of remaining “smart and stylish,” the wheel is especially shock absorbent and capable of dampening the blows felt from obstacles and bumps in the road, replacing the complex suspension systems found today in most vehicles, according to the company.
The idea for a fresh type of wheel was the brainchild of a farmer named Gilad Woolf – who was bound to a wheelchair after breaking his leg, and did not enjoy the rocky ride.
With the financial backing of the RAD BioMed Accelerator group, the Tel Aviv-based start-up SoftWheel emerged.
It has worked for the past three years, in collaboration with Ziv-Av Engineering Group, to design what the company promises to be a “breakthrough technology that changes the perception of the wheel and its function.”
This technology, the company explained, is rooted in an innovative suspension mechanism.
“Very quickly we understood it’s not just about putting the suspension inside the wheel,” SoftWheel CEO Daniel Barel told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “The beauty of our technology is not only that it’s an integral part of the wheel, it’s selective and symmetric. That’s the game-changer.”
The “selective suspension” mechanism remains static on standard floors or pavements, but prompts a shift upon hitting an obstacle.
“The engineering challenge was to create a wheel that contains a suspension system that responds selectively, say, when encountering obstacles,” said Ahishay Sardes, project manager for Ziv-Av.
Upon hitting the bump, the wheel’s hub moves into action, extending or shrinking symmetrically as needed and dramatically reducing the shock transmitted, he said.
“In fact, the wheel itself absorbs most of the blow, instead of the vehicle or the body of the user,” Sardes said.
Whereas 30-35 percent of the propulsion energy provided to a typical wheel goes into the suspension – to sustain sagging and bobbing – approximately 97 percent of the propulsion energy provided to the SoftWheel system goes right into the wheel itself, Barel said.
Although the company is initially designing wheels for wheelchairs, city bikes and aircraft landing gear, the firm emphasizes that the technology is suitable for all forms of transportation vehicles.
Because the wheels reduce the impact of typical street blows, both wheelchairs and bikes that use them can move around freely without having to access ramps, the company said.
Suspension systems found in city bikes are unsuitable for such obstacles and often result in the body consistently bouncing up and down.
By integrating the Soft- Wheel system into bikes, the company said that the riding experience will become much more efficient and generally perform better.
City bikes continue to increase in popularity, and in 2013 more bikes than cars were sold in Europe, Barel said.
SoftWheel is therefore working on a prototype for electric city bikes, but the technology will also apply to manually pedaled machines.
“It is much more efficient both in terms of battery and sweat,” Barel said. “One of the current barriers is that city bikes are uncomfortable because they lack suspension.”
Although the technology is certainly applicable to cars, Barel said that entering the automobile industry requires between seven and 10 years of research and development.
The wheelchair and bike markets are much easier to penetrate, he said.
Having recently completed the development stage for its wheelchair wheel, the Acrobat, SoftWheel has just begun producing these wheels for sale.
Barel said he hopes that by winter or spring of 2015, the Fluent wheels for bicycles will also be ready, adding that development of the aircraft landing gear was underway.
While all research and development is being conducted in Israel, SoftWheel is marketing its products abroad, he said. The company has just entered its second stage of fund-raising.
“As we speak, wheels are coming out of the production line,” Barel said.