CES 2019: Toyota honors mobility concepts designed to help disabled people

Five finalist concepts take the stage at CES 2019.

Steven Ewing Former managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Steven Ewing
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Toyota Mobility Foundation
Toyota Mobility Foundation

"What I personally believe is that future of mobility will be in the hands of those who really want to make society better,"  President Akio Toyoda said at an event in Athens, Greece, in 2017. Indeed, Toyota has made a lot of noise about its intentions to be not just a car company, but a mobility company. And through its Mobility Foundation, Toyota aims to use technology to improve people's lives.

The Toyota Mobility Foundation launched a $4 million Mobility Unlimited Challenge in 2017, where groups were tasked with creating devices to improve the lives of people living with lower-limb paralysis. As part of its CES  festivities on Monday, Toyota is announcing the competition's five finalists.

The finalists for Toyota's Mobility Unlimited Challenge

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First is the Evowalk, from US-based Evolution Devices. According to the device-maker, the Evowalk is a "non-intrusive sleeve which goes around the user's leg and has sensors that track the user's walking motion and will stimulate the right muscles at the right time." Evolution Devices says this not only helps the user walk day to day, but can rehabilitate the muscles over time. And since it doesn't appear to be very big or bulky, could be a great, simple solution.

Then there's Moby (not that Moby), from a well-known Italian company: Italdesign. This one's made for wheelchair users, with Italdesign envisioning "a series of wheel-on electric devices," which are said to "make traveling around cities much simpler and easier for people with lightweight, manual wheelchairs," according to a statement.

Another lightweight wheelchair concept comes from UK-based Phoenix Instinct. Simply called the Phoenix AI, this chair is made from carbon fiber, and "will configure itself to what the user is doing so it remains in sync with how the user moves," according to the company. This chair will constantly adjust its center of gravity, which should make it easier to push. Light power assist is also on hand to help with ascending grades, and automatic braking takes care of slowing down the chair on slopes.

Toyota Mobility Foundation
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Toyota Mobility Foundation

The Qolo is a wheelchair that allows its rider to sit or stand, and move while standing.

Designed by Simon Mckeown with Craig McMullen

Japan's University of Tsukuba created the Qolo, a sort of abbreviation for "quality of life with locomotion." This device is actually a lightweight, mobile exoskeleton that allows users to sit or stand -- "effectively removing the 'chair' from 'wheelchair'," according to Toyota's statement. The user basically travels in a standing position, controlling everything with their upper body.

Finally, another robotic exoskeleton comes from IHMC and MYOLYN, based in the US. This device, called Quix, features motors at the hips, knees and ankles, and is said to "deliver the mobility, safety and independence that current exoskeletons cannot," according to the companies.

Each of these finalists will receive a $500,000 grant from the Toyota Mobility Foundation to further develop the concept. The winner will be announced in Tokyo in 2020, and will be awarded $1 million to be used to put the device into production.

All the cool new gadgets at CES 2019

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