While the mobility industry is seemingly an ever-evolving sector, there are some parts of it which are resistant to embracing new waves of technology. In this report, AMP’s Emma Calder speaks to some of the suppliers spearheading the latest developments and pushing the envelope for assistive technology.
While other industries have been quick to respond to the ever-changing and fast-paced world of technology, the mobility sector has been somewhat cautious in its approach to incorporating new technologies into its arsenal. That’s according to some key players in the sector.
Although the industry’s rate of innovation could by no definition be considered sluggish, with fresh innovations pouring out thick and fast, there are manufacturers and suppliers who believe that the mobility industry could be doing more to integrate smart technology into ranges of access and mobility equipment.
Kerry Williams, general manager of robotics firm TMSUK, feels that the industry should be doing more to introduce smart technology into mobility products to better cope with the ever-growing equipment demand.
Williams says: “The mobility industry has been slow to evolve globally and especially in finding the correct solution to dealing with ageing societies and problems related to that. The demand for mobility solutions is increasing with the ageing population and TMSUK is trying to address these issues with its own products.”
There have, however, been exceptions where customers have warmed to digital progressions, according to All Terrain Wheelchairs. The equipment provider finds that the biggest bump in the road comes from the overarching need to comply with medical guidelines.
The company’s director, Richard Kusniez, tells AMP: “There are many advancements in technology that consumers have been very quick to take on board. The glue that may impede speed to market is the over-riding factor of the necessary bureaucracy to oversee the medical device industry.”
While it is clear that logistics throw a spanner in the works, it’s certainly not the only drawback for industry leaders. The costs associated with incorporating assistive technology can cause manufacturers to throw on the brakes.
Mike Shields, from Wheel Charge, finds that the financial implications are one of the main deterrents plaguing the industry. He says: “We’ve talked to many manufactures and they all seem to point to the fact that it costs money to innovate. Requirements change frequently and the cost for these tests is very high. Basically, leaving the growth in these areas very difficult.”
But it’s not just Shields who finds that the industry has tight purse strings when it comes to assistive technology. Simon Tempest, head of mobility solutions at Ottobock, says that the sector is strapped for cash.
“If there is a barrier in the UK mobility industry, it is financial as wheelchair services have limited budgets. It is also worth mentioning that charities play a vital role in the segment and work closely with both private and state funded projects. However, there needs to be closer alignment in both sectors to realise the full potential of the technology available today.”
“It would be fair to say that funding and specification decisions can sometimes limit the choice for users”
Despite unappealing costs, some members of the sector are still waiting patiently for the high speed roll-out of assistive technology while others fail to see the problem and claim the industry has been quick to adapt.
Having seen swift take-up first-hand, Pressalit Care is keen to quash statements to the contrary. UK sales manager at Pressalit Care, Andrew Lowndes, adds: “I would largely disagree [that assistive technology introduction has been slow]. It would be fair to say that funding and specification decisions can sometimes limit the choice for users.”
Also ready to embrace the digital age is Karma. The wheelchair supplier is seeing healthy competition light a fire beneath the industry.
General manager, Mark Duffield, explains: “I think completion is always driving innovation and product design. Karma Medical has a large R&D department which is constantly working on new products.”
But the industry is also hitting roadblocks as well because many end-users tend to be less-than-accepting of drastic tech overhauls.
Ready to face the challenge of flipping consumer thoughts on their heads is WAV equipment manufacturer Lewis Reed. Managing director, Peter Scullion, tells AMP: “As with all markets, it can take time to change people’s perceptions if they are used to a certain product. However, through careful marketing and highlighting the benefits to the user we find that whenever we launch a new vehicle, the response is always positive.”
Looking further ahead, eFoldi, which offers a smart-folding scooter, is planning to roll out a crowd-funding campaign to further its assistive technology plans.
“We find it’s easier to convince people of the need for change when you can prove that the innovative products are loved by customers,” explains eFoldi operations manager Jin Sun.
“We are preparing for an equity crowdfunding so as to attract investment and take our product development to a whole new horizon. Although we haven’t started the campaign yet, there are many private investors showing strong interest.”
Similarly, Topro is keen to listen to what its customers enjoy using as well as what they want, and then respond in an according manner.
Topro’s sales manager, Paul Briggs, adds: “We listen to our customers to find out what products are required, these include end-users, healthcare professionals and mobility retailers.
“We have a wonderful research and development team who look into improving existing products as well as launching exciting new ones, such as the Neuro and Odysee rollators.”
With more than a few tribulations stacked against the industry, it would be no surprise to find a sparse offering of kit. This fortunately isn’t the case. A handful of industry heavyweights have stepped out in front with the aim of leading the way in the evolution of assistive technology.
Williams feels TMSUK is one of the businesses leading the charge and its fresh and innovative equipment plays a key role in this.
“Our most advanced product at the moment in the mobility industry is our Rodem, a miniature personal mobility vehicle created as a robotic solution to the number of falls that occur when the elderly transfer from their bed to their wheelchair,” says Williams.
Much like TMSUK’s Rodem, which is designed to reduce the number of falls during the transfer process as the user can adjust the seat height to the height of their bed or chair, Wheel Charge Technologies has created what it claims is the first ever wireless power charging system for mobility devices that focuses on making charging as straightforward as possible.
While Ottobock is keen to keep moving and innovating, it’s equally keen not to create for the sake of creating. The company is currently channelling much of its innovation into complex rehabilitation products, which requires input from various sources.
Tempest explains: “For Complex Rehabilitation, we work in a multidisciplinary way, taking into account the recommendations of experts including doctors, biomedical scientists and occupational therapists.
“For example the Juvo chairs now come with a USB charging point so that users can charge their smartphone or other devices whilst on the go.” While some mobility specialists have already made waves with their assistive technology and solutions, others have plans in the pipeline that are now nudging closer to fruition.
Topro is keeping one eye on the year ahead with its Neuro rollator, which is new for 2018. The model features highlights including an operational laser light which assists with freezing episodes, reverse braking system and optional one-sided braking system.
With such a broad scope of assistive technology innovations that the sector still has yet to explore, Wheel Charge’s Shields is optimistic that the industry has exciting times ahead.
He concludes: “Everyone wants the next big thing, and the thing that comes after. The feedback has been great and the idea of change in this field is clear, with the bigger picture being making the world a better place for all. It really shows how much can still be done to make it more accessible. We’ve only just begun.”