Te world can be tough to navigate in a wheelchair, but there’s a San Francisco-based company that’s working to make things just a little bit easier. Rio Mobility has been operating since 2002, and in their decade-plus on the market, they’ve done a lot to change the game.
Rio Mobility’s innovative Dragonfly assist handcycle freed wheelchair users from the grips of their back wheels, but their Firefly takes things a step further. With the Firefly, standard wheelchairs are converted into “powered tricycles,” as Interesting Engineering called them — but these trikes aren’t toys.
Powered by a lightweight removable battery, this machine is capable of propelling wheelchair users at speeds as high as 12 mph (19 kph). For a point of reference, Gizmag notes that this is faster than “most gym treadmills will let you run.”
While the nearly $2,000 system doesn’t come cheap, it’s a far cry from the cost of vehicle modifications needed to accommodate a power chair. That fact, coupled with the unit’s portability, are aspects that pushed Adrian Benson to become a customer. He is a Firefly user, and in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal, it’s clear that Benson doesn’t take the device for granted. “It definitely beats a power wheelchair any day. It’s super convenient.” And Benson acknowledges the price issue, “The Firefly might cost a little extra, but you don’t have to pay for a lift and van modifications. And think how convenient it would be on an airplane.”
Cameron Huff, also speaking to the Business Journal, is a Mississippi-based physical therapist. Huff is excited about the idea behind the project, but is looking beyond the lifestyle issues, “Over a period of time, they (wheelchair users) end up with wear and tear injuries in the shoulders and wrists.” He continues, “The idea is to decrease those injuries by reducing the number of wheelchair propulsions over the course of a day.”
While The Gadgeteer notes that the Firefly is “fully adjustable for compatibility with a large variety of different sized makes/models of wheelchairs for children and adults,” the Business Journal includes a bit of caution in their article by stating, “the device isn’t safe for every wheelchair user.”
Twelve miles per hour might not sound like rocket speed, but given the nature of the device, it feels a lot faster when you’re in the driver’s seat. Benson commented that he “hit 10 miles per hour and it scared me.”
It might be a little frightful getting used to, but adopters of the Firefly are voicing satisfaction with their purchases. Wayne Thompson has been using his Firefly for over a year, and in all that time, he claims in an Amazon review that “it continues to impress me … The attachment mechanism is brilliant, quick to operate and fail-proof.”
Thompson’s not alone in his enthusiasm. Across all of the reviews that the Firefly has received on Amazon, 67 percent of them were rated at 5 stars.