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Reinventing the Wheel: New Wheelchair Wheels Could be Revolutionary

November 22, 2013
Source: CNN

Note: The original online article includes photos and a video with captions. (3:46 mins.)

According to popular wisdom, attempting to reinvent the wheel is the ultimate in design folly. But this didn't stop object designer Duncan Fitzsimmons from giving it a go.

When he sat down at his desk to begin work on the Morph Wheel, Fitzsimmons took on the design challenge -- and the results might just turn out to be revolutionary. In both senses of the word.

The Morph is a detachable wheelchair wheel that can compress to around half of its original width. It is designed to provide greater flexibility and mobility to the estimated 65 million people around the world who need a wheelchair.

The folding wheel was originally created as a folding bicycle wheel by Fitzsimmons when he was a graduate student at the Royal College of Arts in London. But calls from the wheelchair community suggested to him that the design would possibly be more useful to wheelchair users.

Can foldable wheels transforms mobility?

"When people say 'is this reinventing the wheel?', that's a phrase that everyone knows," Fitzsimmons says, "but it's really redesigning the wheel to make it just a little bit better. That's really what you're trying to do when you're designing any product."

The main advantage of the Morph, the designer says, is that it can fit into small spaces, allowing wheelchair users greater flexibility when traveling by car, train or airplane.

"This project started out by looking at the problems caused by large wheels if you're looking at folding bicycles, or the space needed for a folding wheelchair," says Fitzsimmons.

"Having a small wheel or a large wheel dictates the entire design of the wheelchair and what you can do with it. If you can fold a big wheel up into a smaller space, then suddenly for the first time you can get the best of both worlds. You can have a wheelchair that has all the advantages of having a large wheel, but can also be stored into a much smaller space."

David Constantine, co-founder of Motivation, a charity that aims to help people with mobility impairments, says that in his view the Morph wheel could be useful in both developed countries and the developing world.

"I can see all kinds of uses for this," says Constantine, "certainly in the context of the US and more developed countries ... car boots, airplane lockers, any sort of small space you might want to pack a small chair into.

"Not everybody uses a chair every day, so if it has got quick-release wheels and you fold the chair up and you fold these down flat, storage is easy for people who don't use a wheelchair all the time.

"In the context I work in developing countries, if it's low-cost enough, people often live in one room with the whole families, so they often want a folding wheelchair just to keep it out of the way when they're either in bed or sat on the floor cooking, and so again, something that packs down as small as this would be extremely useful."

The Morph wheel has received awards around the world, including the transport category at the London Design Museum design of the year awards 2013, and the 2013 Popular Science Best of What's New award in the Health category.

Morph Wheels are available online from Maddak.

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