Freedom One Life - new rugged powerchair with long life battery set to undergo trials

High up in one of the taller buildings that dominate Glasgow, a great innovative dream is taking form. Alex Papanikolaou is an award winning entrepreneur and the inventor of the Freedom One Life powered wheelchair that he also uses himself.

 

After years spent developing prototypes Alex is now looking for test users to help him trial the Freedom One Life and has turned to Blackwood Homes and Care to help him arrange this, so what exactly is so special about Freedom One Life and why is Alex so keen to get it out there? Speaking to bespoken Alex explained that the inspiration, to begin with at least, was born out of his own experiences with powered wheelchairs;

 

“Freedom One Life was born out of challenges and frustrations throughout my personal and professional life having Cerebral Palsy. I have used powerchairs since I was at school. I developed an independent work and social life and have visited over 200 cities independently with my chair. I haves significant first-hand experience of the limitations that are imposed upon the people by chairs that are outdated, expensive and not fit for purpose.”

 

He continues…

 

“In addition to my travels, a big part of it was really coming back home and asking other powerchair users - is it just me? Am I just a crazy traveller who breaks everything? And the answer from every user both locally and online was no. Pretty much everyone has horror stories about being stranded, some even never go on holiday in case their chair breaks. It was this overwhelming evidence that the current chairs are not fit for purpose, traveller or not, that pushed me to want to do it better.”

 

Has he done better? You be the judge. The Freedom One Life powerchair boasts a 7 day lithium battery life and a 10 year cycle life - compared with only 1 day lead battery life and a 1 year cycle life typical of most powerchairs.

“Next generation” motors, we are told, give it exceptional manoeuvrability and efficiency; although this is one point we will have to leave up to the test users to confirm or debunk.

The design is undeniably sleek and smart and even perhaps a little edgy. The seat has a look that is reminiscent of a rally car and large, thick tubeless tyres that only very rarely go flat only add to that effect, countering the more typical clinical look of many personal mobility vehicles. This is a chair that stands tall.

For the last year Alex has been using one of the latest prototypes of the chair and proudly tells us that he has covered over 2,000 kilometres on it to date. But now he wants to see how others fare with it, which brings us right back to the impending trial with Blackwood in which a group of wheelchair users will test run their Freedom One Life chair for a week under various circumstances and terrains.

“I recognise Blackwood as a leader and champion for independent living and technology that adds freedom to the lives of people with disabilities.” Says Alex on his decisions to approach Blackwood for the trials, “I approached Blackwood looking for a concentration of ambitious and determined people that are keen to continually push boundaries of what is considered acceptable with current mobility solutions.”

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Hi I am not sure about the claims about the batteries used ? Lithium as yet are un proven  and still could have issues. AGM are well proven and although heavy have stood the test of time. They also last more than a day when charged and a year in life if like anything else they are looked after properly. thanks  Eric Roberts 

Hi Alex,

Great to see the dream is getting closer - my heartiest congratulations and admiration.

If I could make a couple of comments (aimed at improving the product - and your potential market) based on my experience.

  1. A folding seat back is essential for anyone (like me) who wants to take their wheelchair in a car without having to pay enormous sums of money to have the floor dropped in a limited range of vans. Even though most of my wheelchairs have electric recline/lift/tilt their backs still fold easily so I can use a standard Ford Galaxy with only light modifications to carry one.
  2. Though I doubted it initially, some form of electric seat lift is essential - for picking things off high shelves in stores or being sociable with (you know) those people who stand on their legs.
  3. It may just be me but where's the wheelchair designer that actually spends any part of daily living in the products they design? I'm sure you do so I'm equally sure you'll have come up with convenient and accessible places to hang bags to hold the everyday "stuff" we all carry around - eg; I use cheap "builder's" tool belt bags hung with velcro straps on the side of my armrests - into which I can drop my phone/tablet - for my outdoor 'chairs I use versions with zips and secure compartments obviously. Problem is, of the four 'chairs I own, only one has a barely convenient place to hang a bag (and that's because of the cheap and shoddy design of the controller arm) - the others can only hang bags at the back or underneath - unless you take tools to them. Kudos to you if your 'chair comes with a useful bag already attached - or at least loops under the armrests from which to hang the user's choice of bag.
  4. Lights: essential if just outside the house at night and clearly for safety if rolling round busy streets or mixing with foot or vehicle traffic at night. Modern LED designs use very little power for great luminosity and can be made to lok part of the 'chair's design.

To Eric - sorry but what you say about batteries is out of date and just plain wrong for the most part. The lead-acid or AGM batteries fitted to most electric wheelchairs are ENORMOUSLY heavy (try carrying a couple on your lap as you trundle around - you'll soon get the picture) and are so Victorian antiquated that Faraday himself would recognise one if he were still among us. Ask anyone who really uses their electric wheelchair to hear more horror stories than you could imagine of being stranded by a 'chair powered by SLA or AGM batteries that just ran out of juice.

Lithium (more properly, in its current safe for of Lithium-Phosphate - often shortened to LiPo) batteries are :

  1. Perfectly safe
  2. Have an energy density many times higher than the very best AGM battery (so, yes, I can believe Alex's 'chair runs for a week between charges (with moderate use)
  3. Last a very long time - many times longer than SLA or AGM so their higher initial cost is repaid in short order - after which you have years of "free" batteries compared to the cost of regularly changing an SLA or AGM battery
  4. Are light weight: I have a folding chair that fits into the boot of an ordinary car. I bought it with three LiPo batteries (each the power equivalent of a 70Ah AGM) yet the entire chair including batteries only weighs 25Kg .. allowing my wife to pick it up and place it in a car boot without the fuss of having to take the batteries out first. By comparison, my "everyday" 'chair with AGM batteries weighs 157Kg, needs an vehicle adapted with a heavy-duty tail-lift to carry it and would not last me a day when I'm out and about exploring - where I can still use the LiPo powered chair for a second hard day of use even if I forget to charge it overnight. If I just go into a city and run round for the day doing shopping and light tasks I needn't charge it before half-a-dozen full day trips.

Eric, it's LiPo that makes your mobile phone possible. Any older form of rechargeable battery would turn the phone into a brick to provide the staying power of the cheapest handset.

LiPo is so well "proven" that it's actually old technology. Soon we will see one or more new battery technologies appearing (eg; based on graphene or "super-capacitor" technology) that will charge from flat in minutes and power a matched device for days.

Can't wait! :)

Alex - well done! Keep going!

George

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