Phoenix i is the First Wheelchair with Integrated Power Assist

A new wheelchair from the UK has the most innovative frame to hit the market in decades. The basis of the Phoenix i is a one-piece carbon fiber frame with carbon and Kevlar backing. While the curved carbon looks futuristic, the real advancement lies in the wheels, which provide an electrically assisted boost that pulls you along while pushing the rear wheels.

The Phoenix i was designed by Scottish inventor and wheelchair user Andrew Slorance. Slorance is the man behind the Carbon Black wheelchair and the Phoenix wheelchair luggage system. He also won the $1 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge from the Toyota Mobility Foundation, which funded the development of the Phoenix i. His prototype featured integrated power assist and a self-adjusting center of gravity, but he decided to focus on bringing power assist to market first.

Off-road performance and indoor maneuverability

A middle-aged white man, Andrew Slorance, in a carbon fiber wheelchair.  He is sitting in front of a brick wall and smiles at the camera.
Scottish inventor Andrew Slorance has been using and perfecting his latest creation, the Phoenix i, for the past 18 months.

In the Phoenix i, the power assist system is turned on and off using a frame-mounted control knob. Once turned on, activating the assistance is as natural as moving the chair: you can push the rear wheels, push an object or increase speed using the control knob. “When you are in a tight space like a kitchen, you can activate the assistance by simply pushing against a [counter]above. The chair will move in the direction that the wheel forks are pointing. The user can switch from forward to reverse without stopping or using any controls.”

To slow down or disable power assist, you can brake with the rear wheels or use the control dial.

On soft terrain, Slorance says power wheels are better suited to a variety of surfaces than typical wheelchair wheels. “On grass, carpet and gravel, the chair pulls the front wheels while the user pushes the rear wheels. This prevents the front wheels from sinking into the soft surface,” he states. “Because the front wheels are driven, all the resistance typical of conventional caster wheels disappears. Instead of getting stuck on pieces of stone and raised slabs, the front wheels continue forward, rolling over obstacles that would normally stop the chair.”

Closeup of a small black sphere with an illuminated blue ring on the outside.  It's on the front seat rail of a carbon fiber wheelchair.
The dial that turns the power assist function on and off, changes the assist level, and switches between power and braking mode is hardwired into the frame of the Phoenix i.

Another feature of the front wheels is assisted braking. By switching from assist mode to braking mode using the control knob, you can choose between different levels of braking when going down a hill. Slorance says hard braking “will almost stop you on a fairly steep hill” and is gradual enough that it won’t throw you forward. On a hill, he says, “you can literally use your hands to drive. Then when you get to the bottom of the hill, just push it back into assist mode and you’ll have power.”

The Phoenix i runs on lithium-ion batteries like those used in cordless power tools. Above the tilt tube are three slots, one active and two reserve, into which the battery packs fit. Each battery pack weighs just under 3 pounds and can be easily removed for travel or if you want to lose weight when you’re packing your chair into a car. The control unit for power assist and braking is hardwired to the frame, so it doesn’t have the safety issues of Bluetooth controllers.

The Phoenix i’s integrated backrest and side protectors are made from a blend of carbon fiber and Kevlar, designed to provide support while retaining some flexibility. Each chair is custom made to your measurements and specifications, and you can fold the backrest for transport. The shipping weight, including the frame, power wheels, controller, backrest, and seat, is 15.4 pounds.

Prices and availability

The Phoenix i’s features are more advanced than any manual wheelchair currently available. But how much does it cost? costAnd can you get it in the US?

The starting price of the Phoenix i is £12,000, or around $15,000, depending on the exchange rate. That’s close to electric wheelchair prices. It is also Similar to what you would pay if you bought Permobil’s new CR1 carbon fiber manual chair and added a SmartDrive. Slorance says his goal was to advance wheelchair technology, and he’s confident Phoenix i will do just that. “The life-changing benefits represent good value. As a small company, we will only manufacture the Phoenix i in small volumes. I hope that over time we will see hybrid wheelchairs become the norm for all brands. When that happens, we could see volume cost savings.”

Currently the Phoenix i is only certified for sale in the European Union; It is currently going through the FDA certification process for sale in the U.S. You can still get it in the U.S. before it becomes FDA certified, but Slorance says you will need a doctor’s note stating that you need the unique features of the Phoenix i and another that states that the chair is for personal use and will not be sold. .

For more information, visit the developer’s website, Phoenix Instinct.

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