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A SENSATIONAL $4 MILLION prize package is up for grabs for people who can come up with ideas that will change the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis forever.

The $4 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge Prize is seeking teams around the world to create life-changing technology that will help radically improve the mobility and independence of paralysed people across the globe.

Prize-winning ideas could include anything from updated/modular wheelchairs, self-balancing wheelchairs, hover-boards and exoskeletons, to anything that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning – such as self-driving AI wheelchairs.

The Challenge is being organised by the Toyota Mobility Foundation and the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre.

As part of the Challenge, wheelchair users across the world have been asked about the daily challenges they face and what assistive tech they would like to see invented.

This is supported by a social campaign #MyMobilityUnlimited, fronted by wheelchair TV presenter and Paralympian basketball player Ade Adepitan, pictured, and other disabled celebrities – seeking to hear what they want to see invented.

Ade said: “I want to be able to hire and drive any car, be able to get on any train or plane and go anywhere in the world. I want to be free. That’s what mobility is about – being free. And technology can do that.”

New research highlights the need for investment and innovation in the development of assistive technologies for people with limited mobility.

The study by ComRes found that:

  • Nine out of ten UK wheelchair users experience pain as a result of their chairs.
  • Half of UK wheelchair users need assistance travelling.
  • A quarter have been refused access to public transport because of their chair, and have felt frustrated because of the ‘outdated’ design of their chair.
  • UK wheelchair users also experience repetitive strain injury (RSI) and pressure sores (32% and 23% respectively).

The top five suggestions to improve life for wheelchair users were devices that allowed people to:

  • Move around faster (41%)
  • Perform regular day-to-day tasks more easily (40%)
  • Feel more relaxed and comfortable with a device that feels more natural and like an extension of themselves (34%)
  • Feel more confident and able to socialise with friends (31%)
  • Feel a sense of spontaneity, freedom and independence (29%)

Julie Ann Burandt, Global Strategy and Communications Manager, Toyota Mobility Foundation, said: “This research expresses the urgent need for innovation in this area. It’s surprising that with all of the technology we have today, we still have people in constant pain as a result of their mobility devices.

“The comments we are receiving through social media show the kinds of developments that people want to see and we hope the Challenge will result in genuinely life-changing technologies.”

Charlotte Macken, at Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, added: “While the focus of this Challenge is lower-limb paralysis, we absolutely do expect that the technology developed as a result will be transferable and have the potential to improve the lives of a much wider group of people.

“This Challenge is about achieving impact, and for that reason, we needed to narrow the focus. However, we recognise that people have a wide range of mobility needs and hope to be able to help them too.”

Around the world, millions of people have lower-limb paralysis (the most common causes being strokes, spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis).

While there are no statistics on paralysis worldwide, the World Health Organization estimates there are 250,000-500,000 new cases of spinal cord injury globally every year.

Entries close on 15 August. All entrants will keep their intellectual property rights.

www.mobilityunlimited.org

TOYOTA has already collaborated with a number of experts, sharing their knowledge and expertise and applying robotics to assist people with limited mobility. This has included:

  • IBot mark 2: Stair climbing wheelchair, soon to be made slimmer and more affordable;
  • Human Support Robot (HSR): A ‘partner robot’ to assist people with everyday activities;
  • Project BLAID: A future mobility technology that could help people who are blind or have visual impairments gain better environmental awareness.