Students from the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre will dominate the new Innovation Zone at next month’s Mobility Roadshow, which showcases products that help disabled people get from A to B.
RCA graduate and Innovation Zone exhibitor Duncan Fitzsimmons hopes that the 2009 roadshow’s new segment will ‘kick some sense into some of the bigger manufacturers, because people are crying out for new ideas in the mobility sector’.
Fitzsimmons became no less than the inspiration for the Innovation Zone when he showed his patented folding wheel, the Crossbreed, at last year’s show, according to Jacqui Jones, executive director of the roadshow’s organiser Mobility Choice.
‘It was really popular with visitors,’ says Jones. Fitzsimmons claims show visitors told him that the wheel was ‘the first really new thing that they had seen in the world of wheelchairs for years’.
This positive feedback convinced him to adapt the wheel for wheelchairs, rather than pursuing the fold-up bicycle industry, his original target market, and Fitzsimmons is back at the show this year with the wheel, appropriately refigured. ‘This is the sort of idea progression that we need to foster in the industry and that the Innovation Zone is for,’ says Jones.
The second confirmed exhibitor, among a total of about 12, is RCA student Rombout Frieling. He hopes that exhibiting in the zone will stimulate interest in his radical alternative to the traditional staircase.
The Flupper is a vertical, manually operated chairlift that Frieling claims uses less than a fifth of the energy that it takes to climb the stairs. Contained within a narrow vertical shaft, the spring-like mechanism with seat and foot-press could cost nearly half that of a traditional stairlift to buy and install.
Both the Flupper and the Crossbreed make the kind of claims to visual and ergonomic style that Jones admits is not true of some of the assistive equipment already on the market. She identifies an unfulfilled demand for mobility scooters for the 18-30 age bracket. ‘Currently,’ Jones explains, ‘these scooters are associated with middle-aged shoppers, but they could be really useful for young people, too.’ Jones is waiting for someone to come up with ‘a funky, lightweight scooter’.
Occupational therapist Jamie Eccles adds that while there is ‘some aesthetically pleasing assistive equipment’ on the market, ‘it is not widely available, largely because of cost’. Eccles reports that most mobility equipment is provided by the NHS and produced by global medical suppliers ‘for whom cost is the primary concern’. Yet he maintains that ‘People don’t want to use something that doesn’t look nice, or that screams, “Look at me, I’m disabled”.’
The Mobility Roadshow takes place on 4-6 June at Kemble Airfield in Gloucestershire.
MOBILITY ROADSHOW HIGHLIGHTS
Innovation Zone – about 12 designers, mainly from the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre, will be seeking audience feedback on their prototype mobility products
Motoring – converted cars will be on show, including a modified Renault Kangaroo, adapted by Constables Mobility, and a Volkswagen Caddy, adapted by Sirus Automotive
Wheelchairs – the wheelchair and scooter section will feature products from new bespoke wheelchair company Nomad. Trekinetic will also show its range of all-terrain scooters