Mobility Unlimited Challenge

Supporting radical improvements in the mobility and independence of people with lower-limb paralysis through smarter assistive technology

What was the Mobility Unlimited Challenge?

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge was a $4 million international challenge led by the Toyota Mobility Foundation and Nesta Challenges which was designed to change the daily lives of people with lower-limb paralysis through innovative personal mobility devices incorporating intelligent systems. It aimed to harness creative thinking from across the world to accelerate innovation and encourage collaboration with end-users, in order to result in devices that will integrate seamlessly into users’ lives and environments, enabling greater independence and increased participation in daily life.

We looked for teams with engineering, software, design and data science expertise. But more importantly, we sought teams who put end-users at the heart of everything they do, engaging people with lower-limb paralysis from the outset to develop devices that best meet their needs.

Why did we do this?

Mobility is a fundamental part of being independent and free to participate in society. Yet, globally, society is not fully inclusive to millions of people with paralysis.

While there is no single experience, people with paralysis face barriers to their mobility, and therefore their independence, because of inaccessible environments and inadequate technology. 

Mobility devices can be life changing, but the pace of innovation is frustratingly slow. Disincentives such as small and fragmented markets, regulatory burdens, and difficulties getting new technology paid for by healthcare systems and insurers are all impeding progress.

We believe that groundbreaking technology can drastically reduce mobility barriers.

What happened?

  • 96 entries were received from specialist teams in 22 different countries
  • 10 Discovery Award winners received US$50k each, in order to develop their applications to become a finalist
  • Five finalist teams were then announced on 7 January 2019, and each received a US$500k Finalist Development Grant to refine their solution even further
  • In December 2020, Phoenix Instinct from the UK was awarded the US$1 million winning prize to help bring its Phoenix Ai Ultralight wheelchair to market

Timeline of the Challenge

16 Nov 2017

Challenge launched

Applications to the Mobility Unlimited Challenge opened.

7 Feb 2018

Deadline for Discovery Award

Applications for a Discovery Awards closed.

11 Apr 2018

Discovery Award winners announced

10 Discovery Award winners received $50k each to develop their applications with the aim of becoming finalists.

15 Aug 2018

Applications closed

Deadline to apply to become a finalist in the Challenge

14 Jan 2019

Finalists announced

Five teams are announced as finalists and given a $500k Development Grant

17 Dec 2020

Winners announcement

The winning team is announced and receives a $1 million final prize

Winner of the Challenge

Phoenix Instinct were announced as securing the top spot with their device, the Phoenix i, which is an ultra-lightweight manual wheelchair made from carbon-fiber. Using smart sensors, the chair will configure itself to what the user is doing so it remains in sync with how the user moves. Sensors around the chair detect if the user is leaning forward or back, and algorithms will calculate the wheelchair’s response. They were awarded a $1million prize, to develop their innovation further and take it to market.

Watch this to learn more about their journey to winning

Finalists

A smart wearable leg sleeve that helps people with partial lower limb paralysis regain their mobility. The EvoWalk AI system uses sensors to predict the user’s walking motion and stimulates the right muscles at the right time to help them walk better.

Watch this to learn more

An integrated network of wheel-on powered devices, allowing users of manual wheelchairs the convenience and benefits of a powered chair, accessible via an app-based share scheme.

Watch this to learn more

Qolo (Quality of Life with Locomotion) is a mobile exoskeleton on wheels, allowing users to sit or stand with ease. 

Watch this to learn more

A highly mobile, powered exoskeleton offering fast, stable and agile upright mobility.

Watch this to learn more

Judges

  • Professor Linamara Battistella, Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine doctor at the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
  • Winfried Beigel, Director of Research and Development for Otto Bock Mobility Solutions (Germany)
  • Dr. Mary Ellen Buning, President-elect for the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (United States)
  • Dr. Kay Kim, President of NT Robot Co (South Korea)
  • Dr. Eric Krotkov, Chief Science Officer at Toyota Research Institute (United States)
  • Eric LeGrand, disability rights advocate (United States)
  • Sophie Morgan, television presenter and disability advocate (United Kingdom)
  • Ruth Peachment, Occupational Therapy Clinical Specialist at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (United Kingdom)
  • Matthew Reeve, Director of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation (United States)
  • Dr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, President of robotics company Cyberdyne (Japan)
  • Dr. Lloyd Walker, professional rehabilitation engineer at Tech4Life (Australia)

The team

Caroline Pradier

Programme Manager

Olivier Usher

Head of Research

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