Visions of Mobility

Game-changing accessible mobility technology leads the opening day at CES


A select group of engineers, innovators and designers are getting a major leg up when it comes to creating game-changing accessible mobility technology and devices for people with lower limb disabilities.

Five finalists for Toyota’s Mobility Unlimited Challenge were announced Monday afternoon at a standing-room-only press conference during the annual mega electronics trade show called CES in Las Vegas.

Artists conception of Moby, an Italian designed wheel-on powered devices that are accessible via a mobile app-based share scheme. (Image courtesy of Italdesign).


Sponsored by the Toyota Mobility Foundation and Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, the contest asked people from around the world to submit designs for technologies that incorporate intelligent systems to improve the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis. The five finalists are:

  • The Evowalk: Evolution Devices (United States) – a nonintrusive sleeve which goes around the user’s leg. Sensors track the user’s walking motion to stimulate the right muscles at the right time to improve mobility.
  • Moby: Italdesign (Italy) – an integrated network of wheel-on powered devices, allowing manual wheelchair users the convenience and benefits of a powered chair, accessible via an app-based share scheme
  • Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair: Phoenix Instinct (United Kingdom) – an ultra-lightweight, self-balancing, intelligent wheelchair which eliminates painful vibrations
  • Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion): Team Qolo, University of Tsukuba (Japan) – a mobile exoskeleton on wheels, allowing users to sit or stand with ease.
  • Quix: IHMC & MYOLYN (United States) – a highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility

Each of the finalists will receive $500,000 to develop their concepts into a full, working prototype over the next 18 months, with the winner receiving $1 million in Tokyo in 2020.

Artists conception of Quix, a mobile powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility. (Image courtesy of IHMC & MYOLYN).


More Than Cars

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is part of Toyota’s belief that mobility is changing and that the company has more to offer than automobiles.

“We think mobility shouldn’t be restricted because of a disability or because of age,” says Toyota Executive Vice President Bob Carter, who announced the finalists. “We will always be the car, truck and SUV manufacturer. I’m not suggesting that we’re not focused on that business, but we’ve evolved so much technology that we believe we can assist consumers on the road and in the house.”

The contest received 80 entries from teams in 29 countries around the world. Those teams presented their ideas to a group of 11 judges that included experts in physical rehabilitation, engineering and occupational therapy, as well as disability rights advocates. Entrants were all at various stages of development with their ideas, but each had to show that their idea could be brought to fruition.

Toyota Research Institute Chief Science Officer Eric Krotkov, PhD, was one of the judges and believes keeping the contest focused on a specific issue made a big difference.

“That’s where the creativity comes when you open it up to lots and lots of different groups and having them all united on a set challenge, they’re not all over the place. They’re all responding to lower limb paralysis,” says Krotkov. “Then you really start to focus the community on one set of problems. Both the great turnout and good focus have been superb.”

Krotkov says getting the field of entrants down to five finalists was “very difficult” because some people made great presentations, but they didn’t have the best ideas. Meanwhile, others had a good idea but presented it poorly.

He emphasized that it takes more than a good idea; there has to be a team to help push the idea forward with “a combination of innovation and perspiration.”

Finalists will certainly need to put more “perspiration” into their ideas, as they will have to make one final presentation to the judges with a working prototype. Krotkov knows exactly what he wants to see from them.

“What I want as a judge in 18 months is to strap it on, sit in it, ride and work it as a full system,” Krotkov says.

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