An amazing thing happened when an inventor and his best friend, an athletically-inclined paraplegic, got together and decided to make getting around a bit easier. They came up with and tested a completely hands-free wheelchair.
For Kevin Halsall, an engineer and product developer from Otaki, New Zealand, the journey all began as a child. He was always pulling things apart and putting them back together to see how they worked. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that Halsall took advantage of his background in engineering and product design to create the OGO. His best friend Marcus Thompson, who is paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a skiing accident and still leads a very active and athletic lifestyle, was the inspiration behind the project and the product’s first beta tester. The idea for the hands-free device first came about when Halsall was with a group of off-road enthusiasts.
“A mate of mine invited me to get in a group of people and go off-road Segway riding,” says Halsall. “So I hopped on the Segway and the first thing I thought was if I didn’t have the use of my legs this is the first thing that I would be adapting to be able to get around.”
Halsall and Thompson then asked a friend if they could strip down their Segway and use all of the components of it as an add-on for a wheelchair. They used all of the internal parts of the device including the sensors to come up with the finished product. The end result is a revolutionary, one-of-a-kind hands-free wheelchair that uses lithium ion batteries, the user’s own weight displacement, and a combination of forward and backward sensors that allows the user to move in any direction using core body strength. This incredible invention will allow people who depend on using a wheelchair daily to do things like mow the lawn, walk the dog, take out the trash and play basketball (thanks to all-terrain wheels that accompany the hands-free components) in ways that weren’t possible before.
The device is turning heads all over the health industry as Halsall and Thompson continue to receive hundreds of emails and phone calls every day from doctors, hospitals, occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals requesting the wheelchair. It has the potential to change people’s day-to-day lives and increase the level of independence for people with all kinds of disabilities and mobility-related challenges.
“When you’re in a crowd you can start just talking to people and actually through body movement, you become part of the conversation without thinking about the movement,” Thomspson told One News Now. “It’s one of those life-affirming things that this machine does it puts you in touch with your whole body again.”
Aside from the device itself being amazing, it’s Halsall and Thompson that are the real heroes. They want to make future versions of the OGO that people with even more severe physical challenges can benefit from. The aim of inventing the wheelchair wasn’t just to make a profit, but to change the way people with disabilities move forever.
“This is only going to be the very first version of the OGO,” says Halsall. “What I want to do is put the same attention and focus on adapting the technology to other disabilities so that we can make other models that suit the vast variety of other disabilities that for one reason or another may not allow certain people to use this first version of the OGO.”
Considering that the OGO can handle almost any kind of terrain, allow the end user to participate in any number of physical activities independently, and allow them to sit in a chair that is compact, strengthens core muscles and ultimately provides a level of freedom like no other chair before it, it should come as no surprise that Halsall invested $40,000 of his own money to create the first working model. He assures his own personal investment is no indication of what the end product will cost the consumer.
If anything it’s forcing Halsall and Thompson to think outside the box financially too. They are currently considering starting a crowdfunding campaign, among generating other possible sources of funding, in order to really get the buzz and the money required to start building OGO wheelchairs on a mass scale. Winning New Zealand’s $10,000 National Innovator’s Award certainly went a long way towards providing the pair with both added funding and well-deserved recognition.
While the OGO technology is still a few steps away from being introduced to the general public, it’s obvious that these two best friends have created something that is going to change lives. The OGO isn’t just a wheelchair with the parts of a Segway glued onto it. It’s a chance for people with disabilities everywhere to use as much of their bodies as they can to do as much as they can. Halsall and Thompson are a testament to what two best friends inspired to change the world through technology can accomplish.