Made in Chennai: Growing an indigenous idea

IIT-Madras developed wheelchair that was used in an attempt to create a world record

January 23, 2022 12:10 pm | Updated 12:10 pm IST

Kamal Kanta

Kamal Kanta

Recently, when Kamal Kanta, a 28-year-old with spinal cord injury, attempted a world record to complete a 213-kilometre run in 24 hours on his manual wheelchair at Bhubaneswar, a small team from Chennai was around to cheer him. They are behind Kamal giving him ‘wings’ to vroom on the adaptable wheelchair.

The desi wheelchair — designed with Kamal’s body measurement in mind to provide him ergonomic comfort — and his will power went a long way towards ensuring he did not face any roadblocks during the event.

For the IIT-Madras incubated start-up NeoMotion that designed and developed the wheelchair, Kamal’s feat is proof that users of such mobility aids can be independent and take up some livelihood work. Kamal himself is a peer trainer where he educates and motivates other persons with spinal cord injury. As per their research, every year three lakh wheelchairs are sold in India, of which two and half lakh are imported. More than 90% of all wheelchairs sold in India are one-size-fits-all, restricting mobility and confidence.

“In the early years, a wheelchair would last me only three to four month as I used it to go everywhere. Covering a kilometre in the surgical wheelchair took me 1000 pushes,” says Kamal, who has taken part in over 100 wheelchair marathons. “Along with size, quality of tyre and bearings matter.”

Active wheelchair-bound users like Kamal offer feedback that help companies to improvise on their design. “Any normal wheelchair user generally rides a kilometre a day whereas Kamal travels at least 10 km a day. He is active indoors and outdoors, independent and is a product tester for us,” says Siddarth Daga, head of sales and outreach, NeoMotion. He adds the NeoFly wheelchair was given to Kamal as a grant support.

A project to provide a livelihood on wheels

Three independent CSR projects have enabled NeoMotion, co-founded by Professor Sujatha Srinivasan, head, TTK Centre for Rehabilitation Research and Device Development, IIT Madras, to provide customised wheelchairs to more than 160 differently-abled persons. The aim is to impact one lakh lives every year by 2025, said a release.

This is important as NeoMotion’s research says that a majority of wheelchairs in India have been donated. Often parameters like seating comfort and compactness are ignored.

Swostik Sourav Dash, chief executive officer, NeoMotion, says the CSR projects have taken a different approach by identifying and assessing the beneficiaries before providing wheelchairs.

Beneficiaries are selected on the basis of their socio-economic status, need assessment, diagnosis and age.

Through video calls every wheelchair is customised according to the beneficiary’s measurements and medical assessment.

The start-up will be launching ‘Livelihood on Wheels’, a social project where ‘NeoBolt’ wheelchairs will be used as a tool for work — such as delivering newspapers, milk, food items and also carry out other last-mile delivery jobs, which will help them earn a livelihood.

The project model incorporates a percentage of the salary earned to be deposited in a corpus to fund the next set of NeoBolts for a new set of beneficiaries.

“It is like EMI but the money will be used to benefit another beneficiary. We are partnering with CSR bodies, NGOs in the vocational training space and potential employers who can employ people with locomotive disability and promote diversity and inclusion in the process,” says Swostik.

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