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 I haves significant first-hand experience of the limitations that are imposed upon the people by chairs that are outdated, expensive and not fit for purpose.”
“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.”
Sign up to bespoken to comment and receive our weekly bulletin
The Argonault wheelchair - the most versatile mobility aid ever?
Glassouse won best new product in the Blackwood Design Awards 2016 - find out how it increases independence...
Conversation with Gavin Neate - the award winning Edinburgh entrepreneur is changing the face of digital technology
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
lithium (specifically LiFePo4) battery packsare well proven (almost old-hat) technology. You will find them powering golf buggies, industrial fork-lift trucks ... and 200MPH / 600 mile range electric sports cars.
Read about my own recent changeover forn AGM to lithium on one of my full-size wheelchairs at https://www.biznik.co.uk/category/disability/ - the battery I had CUSTOM MADE in China cost less than a pair of standard AGM replacements, takes up less than half the space and is a mere 53Kg lighter - that's one third the weight of the chair.
I no longer need to charge the chair every night, can run it until the batteries are completely flat if I need - and then recharge it at a truly frightening rate with no possible damage to battery or wheelchair. I have so far made no changes whatever to the wheelchair, its wiring or programming. The only result is that the wheelchair now accelerates like a sports car (losing 53Kg of mass will do that!) That weight reduction translates into a 25% increase in real world range (or hours of use, if you prefer). I certainly cannot run the battery down even after a very hard (16 hour) day of pounding the streets of Bordeaux.*I* cannot keep going that long!
If you are still dubious, look up my photos of my other foldable chair (powered by three tiny lithium battery packs - the whole, chair and batteries weighing just 27Kg) - especially the ones where I am tearing up a Norwegian mountain in it on a road that brings many cars to a crawl.
I still charge the converted chair using the original charging socket (so charging is restricted to 10A max) - should that ever bother me I'll install an Andersen connector on the side of the mostly empty battery box and charge it at 100A or more - meaning empty-to-full in about 40 minutes!
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.
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 :
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!