First-hand experiences of living with reduced mobility are resulting in pioneering products arriving on the market, such as the believed-to-be world’s lightest wheelchair Panthera X and the versatile M+D crutches.
Jalle Jungnell, founder and chief designer at Swedish wheelchair producer Panthera, came up with his groundbreaking, extreme light-weight model after breaking his spine in a motorcycle accident. Similarly, Max Younger, co-founder of US-based Mobility+Designed, conceived his flagship product, the M+D Crutch, after seeing the pain his father, Dan, an above the knee amputee, was suffering.
“Max always felt the standard design for crutches was a suboptimal solution that caused unnecessary pain,” explained Liliana Younger, chief brand officer and co-founder of the company. “It became his mission to come up with a better solution. “Seeing what Dan was going through enabled him to deliver a radically improved, end-user experience of decreased pain to hands and wrists, which can be caused by other types of crutches.”
Every Gram Matters
Former motorcycle racer and go-kart champion Jungnell went on to become a Paralympian, representing Sweden in basketball, and winning medals in curling at the Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.
“When I had my accident in 1976 and became a wheelchair user myself, I basically switched overnight from rebuilding my motorcycle frames to building my own wheelchairs,” he said.
“In racing, I was living 24/7 with the philosophy that any extra gram you could reduce would increase your performance, and therefore your speed. I translated that into engineering, right from the first chair I built. Starting with basketball and other sports, but even more importantly, an active life, I also got a good idea what I wanted from a chair.”
Believed to be the world’s lightest wheelchair, Panthera X is made from carbon fibre, chromoly and aluminium—and weighs in at just 2.1kg, explained Nils Sallnäs, managing director of the company. “Research began in 2005 and the product was ready to go to market in 2010. Now we construct, produce and sell rigid-frame, active wheelchairs for all ages.”
Panthera X has a carbon fibre chassis and backrest frame. By positioning the fibres in a certain direction, the team discovered they could further increase strength. There is a built-in rear axle and four positions for balancing the chair. Height and the angle of the backrest are adjustable; the height of the footrest can also be changed. The lightness and rigidity of the chassis make it easy to drive and lift into a car.
“Now we have the Panthera X and the result is 2.1kg.”
“Using the most extreme material and methods, and even developing new production methods, are things that have not been done before in our industry,” Jungnell said. “We set out to have a goal, which would not only impress the market but would impress ourselves if we succeeded – this totally unrealistic goal was a transport weight of 2kg.
Jungnell said he has fulfilled a dream. “Now we have the Panthera X and the result is 2.1kg. Being almost there, I still have to say that I’m very glad my obsession for weight has got us so close to the ultimate active chair.”
Walks of Life
Product development is also ongoing at Mobility Designed, where the first production batch of the M+D Crutch was released just over a year ago. Besides coming in a pair, the crutches can also be used individually as walking sticks, are as they are designed to fit either the left or right hand. The strain to the hand that typical canes can cause is relieved.
“Dan has always been our guinea pig,” Mrs. Younger admitted. “From day one, we have given him prototypes to test. As development progressed, we took them to a broader sample for more qualitative feedback.”
The aim with the M+D Crutch is to enhance mobility and versatility, while reducing pain, particularly under the arms. Innovative features of the size-adjustable product include a hinged arm cradle, which can be molded to different sizes and offers enhanced motion, allowing the user to reach for objects, without removing the crutch.
“Mobility is such a central part of everyday life and when you are fully able you take it for granted.”
There are also flexible, quick-release armbands—made from an antimicrobial, hypoallergenic foam—which make strapping on and off easier, while simultaneously providing high levels of support. Ergonomic grips can rotate, permitting the use of hands for other purposes and rubber feet are shock absorbing, offering a strong grip, even on ice.
“The larger pieces of the crutch are made from nylon filled with long strands of glass,” Mrs. Younger explained. “This makes them strong and gives additional spring.”
Some 1,000 crutches have already been shipped across the U.S., as well as to Canada and Mexico. They will also soon be available in Europe. “Our aim now is to continue to listen to our users so we can focus on streamlining and making the crutches even more versatile,” she said. “Mobility is such a central part of everyday life and when you are fully able you take it for granted. If we can improve someone’s mobility even in a small way then we are very satisfied.”
Read more about crutches on MedicalExpo website.