Rapid-prototyping company Proto Labs recently announced the third award-winner in their ongoing "Cool Idea!" program, an open call for designers and entrepreneurs to enter their projects for a chance to win up to $100,000 worth of Firstcut CNC-machined and/or Protomold injection molded parts: Whirlwind Wheelchair's RoughRider.
Whirlwind Wheelchair International is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that it is "dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local economic development in the process," with a specific focus on providing high-quality wheelchairs to those who need them.
Their flagship product, the RoughRider, is a durable, low-cost, all-purpose wheelchair, which has found an enthusiastic audience of over 25,000 riders in over 40 countries. Now, after over three decades of improving the lives of the less fortunate, they are making the assistive device available in the United States.
In preparation for the release to a mainstream U.S. audience, the RoughRider underwent a redesign with the addition of lightweight side panels to make it better looking and customizable, something U.S. customers will love. As a Cool Idea! Award recipient, Proto Labs provided Whirlwind Wheelchair International with the key side panels needed for an initial U.S. launch.
Existing features of the RoughRider, which was developed for use on "muddy village paths [and] rough pot-holed urban streets" alike, include a long wheelbase for stability, heavy-duty casters in front and mountain bike wheels in back, and five-position rear axle.
Perhaps most importantly, the tires, tubes, hardware and bearings are readily available in nearly every corner of the world—"in bicycle shops, motorcycle shops, and hardware stores wherever you go."
Whirlwind Wheelchair International founder Ralf Hotchkiss believes that it is high time for American riders to have a more rugged option for a wheelchair: "Scores of wheelchair riders in the U.S. have inquired about purchasing the RoughRider specifically for off-pavement adventures that are difficult with U.S. style wheelchairs. Entering the U.S. market at this time will provide Whirlwind with a wealth of critical feedback from well-informed consumers, and may raise enough funds to do much-needed development of the innovations coming in from riders in developing countries. Besides, some U.S. riders who have ridden the Rough Rider had so much fun that they would love to get one for themselves. We will do whatever is necessary to make this happen."
See it in action after the jump:
Whirlwind Wheelchair International is currently offering the RoughRider to its first 100 U.S. customers for a trial and feedback period in order to refine the design in anticipation of a wider release. Click here to find out more about the trial, or learn more about Proto Labs' Cool Idea award here.