Toyota unveils finalists in $4 million quest to reinvent wheelchairs

There are also potential breakthroughs in exoskeletons.

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Designed by Simon Mckeown with Craig McMullen
Designed by Simon Mckeown with Craig McMullen

Toyota's ongoing bid to modernize wheelchairs has borne some fruit. The automaker has unveiled the five finalists for its $4 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge after three years of competition, and all of them promise to rethink how people with mobility issues get around -- in some cases, without using a wheelchair at all. The project you see above is Qolo, a hybrid exoskeleton and wheelchair that can sit or stand. You could talk to standing people at eye level without losing the advantages of a conventional chair.

Gallery: Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge finalists | 5 Photos

  • Evolution Devices' Evowalk sleeve
  • Italdesign's Moby wheelchair service
  • IHMC and MYOLYN's Quix exoskeleton
  • Phoenix Instinct's Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair
  • Qolo exoskeleton/wheelchair hybrid
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Other additions are similarly clever. Moby, an Italdesign-made service that would provide wheelchair users access to electric devices to help them get around town, much like a bike sharing company. The Phoenix Ai Ultralight Wheelchair can balance itself to reduce vibrations and reconfigure itself to stay in sync with the way you move. Quix is an exoskeleton that borrows perception tech from self-driving cars to provide movement you can't get from current technology, while Evolution Devices' Evowalk sleeve stimulates muscles to improve movement for people who'd otherwise have trouble walking.

The finalists each receive $500,000 to help develop their products. You'll have to wait until 2020 (conveniently in time for the Olympics) to hear about the winner, who receives $1 million for their efforts. There's no guarantee that these projects will come to fruition, but they all show that accessibility has plenty of room to grow.

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