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Phoenix i is the First Wheelchair with Integrated Power Assist


A new wheelchair from the U.K. has the most innovative frame to hit the market in decades. The base of the Phoenix i is a one-piece carbon fiber frame with a carbon and Kevlar backrest. While the curving carbon looks futuristic, the real advancement lies in the casters, which provide a power-assist boost that pulls you along as you push the rear wheels.

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


Off-road Performance and Indoor Maneuverability

On the Phoenix i, you turn the power-assist system on and off via a frame-mounted control knob. Once on, engaging the assist is natural as moving your chair — you can push the rear wheels, push off an object or turn up the speed via the control knob. “When in a confined space like a kitchen you can activate the assist just by pushing against a [counter]top. The chair will travel in the direction the caster forks are pointing. The user can switch from forwards to backwards travel without stopping or using any controls.”




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

On soft terrain, Slorance says the powered casters handle a variety of surfaces better than typical wheelchair casters. “On grass, carpet and gravel the chair is pulling via the front wheels while the user pushes the rear wheels. This avoids the front casters sinking into the soft surface,” he says. “Because the front wheels are powered, all the drag typical of conventional caster wheels is gone. Rather than getting stuck on stone chips and raised slabs, the front wheels keep going, driving over obstacles that would normally bring the chair to a stop.”




Scottish inventor Andrew Slorance has been using and refining his latest creation, the

Phoenix i, for the past 18 months.


On soft terrain, Slorance says the powered casters handle a variety of surfaces better than typical wheelchair casters. “On grass, carpet and gravel the chair is pulling via the front wheels while the user pushes the rear wheels. This avoids the front casters sinking into the soft surface,” he says. “Because the front wheels are powered, all the drag typical of conventional caster wheels is gone. Rather than getting stuck on stone chips and raised slabs, the front wheels keep going, driving over obstacles that would normally bring the chair to a stop.”


Another feature of the front casters is power braking. By switching from assist to braking mode via the control knob, you can choose from different levels of braking when you’re descending a hill. Slorance says full braking will “bring you almost to a stop on a pretty steep hill” and is gradual enough that it won’t pitch you forward. On a hill, he says, “You can literally just use your hands to steer. Then when you come to the bottom of the hill, just press it back into assist mode and you’ve got power.”

The Phoenix i is powered by lithium-ion battery packs like those used in cordless power tools. Over the camber tube are three slots — one active and two reserve — that you click the battery packs into. Each battery pack weighs just under 3 pounds and can be easily removed for travel or if you want to shed weight when you’re pulling your chair into a car. The control unit for power assist and braking is hardwired into the frame, so you don’t have the safety concerns of Bluetooth controllers.

The Phoenix i’s integrated backrest and sideguards are made from a mix of carbon fiber and Kevlar, designed to be supportive yet retain some pliability. Each chair is custom-made to your measurements and specifications, and you can fold the backrest down for transport. The transport weight — including frame, power casters, controller, backrest and seat pan — is 15.4 pounds.


Pricing and Availability

The features on the Phoenix i are more advanced than any manual wheelchair currently available. But how much does it cost, and can you get it in the U.S.?

The Phoenix i’s initial price is £12,000, or about $15,000, depending on exchange rates. That’s approaching power wheelchair prices. It’s also similar to what you’d be paying if you bought Permobil’s new carbon fiber CR1 manual chair and added a SmartDrive to it. Slorance says his goal was to advance wheelchair technology — which he’s confident the Phoenix i does. “The life-changing benefits represent good value. As a small business, we will only be making the Phoenix i in small volumes. I hope in time we will see hybrid wheelchairs become the norm from all the brands. When that happens, we might see volume cost savings.”

Currently the Phoenix i is only certified to be sold in the European Union; it’s undergoing the FDA certification process for sale in the U.S. now. You can still get it in the U.S. before it’s FDA-certified, but Slorance says you’ll need a doctor’s note saying you require the unique features of the Phoenix i and another stating that the chair is for personal use and won’t be sold.

For more information, visit the website of the developer, Phoenix Instinct.

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