Cities are difficult to navigate at the best of times, but for people with disabilities they can be like an obstacle course and a maze wrapped into one.
A UK national travel survey found that adults with mobility difficulties took 39% fewer trips than those with no disability in 2017. Yet that could change as devices and cities grow smarter.
Assistive tech is playing a big role in the transformation. The global value of the industry is expected to increase from $14 billion in 2015 to $30.8 billion in 2024, according to Zion Market Research and Coherent Market Insights.
Here are three high-tech solutions making cities easier for people with disabilities.
A wheelchair that can climb stairs
Jose Di Felice, from Switzerland, was paralyzed in both legs and one arm after a high-speed motorcycle accident three years ago.
While adjusting to life in a wheelchair, he realized that stairs were his biggest hurdle. He took to YouTube to look for alternatives and discovered Scewo. The startup has built a wheelchair that can be controlled through a smartphone. It can tackle a range of terrains, and has special rubber tracks for climbing stairs.
Di Felice requested a test drive and soon after he was climbing the steps of the local town hall in a wheelchair. “It was really emotional to go up these stairs, and look down there and say that it’s possible,” he says.
The wheelchair is expected to be distributed to users by the end of 2019, and Di Felice will be one of the first to receive the product.
“We cannot wait on having all these ramps built,” Bernhard Winter, the CEO and founder of Scewo, says of urban mobility. “This is why we developed this product, so it gives you back mobility and freedom.”
A robotic exomuscle suit
Wearable tech is also becoming more sophisticated. Zurich-based start-up MyoSwiss has developed an exomuscle suit with a combination of robotics and textiles.
The robotic garment, weighing less than 5 kilograms (11 pounds), adds a layer of muscle that supports movements and provides stability to people with mobility impairments. It uses sensors at the knee and hip to detect movements the user wants to make and helps accordingly.
“It assists people that need extra force or extra assistance in their daily life,” says Jaime Duarte, CEO of MyoSwiss. “[It’s] for people that can still walk to some extent but maybe struggle to stand out from a chair or struggle to go upstairs.”
This year the MyoSuit enabled two people with mobility limitations to take part in a relay version of the Zurich marathon.