Walking the dog, popping out to the shops, going sightseeing … it's not that wheelchair users can't do these things, it's just that they're a pain in the butt. Or, more often, a pain in the shoulder or a case of carpal tunnel or RSI. Everything takes more planning when you're in a chair – and if you're not feeling super energetic, any trip further than a few hundred yards starts looking like a car ride.
That's why this gadget looks pretty nifty to me. The Firefly, from Rio Mobility, is a freestanding electric handcycle that clips on to a wide range of wheelchairs in less than a minute, and turns them into mini power trikes. Have a look:
Once it's attached and your two small front wheels are lifted off the ground, you're ready to hit a top speed of 18 km/h (11 mph). That might not sound super quick, but then 16 km/h is about as fast as most gym treadmills will let you run. And it's a good deal faster than you're going to get your chair going manually, short of pointing it down a big hill.
The Firefly uses an automatic motorcycle-style set of controls, with a twist grip throttle and two brake levers. There's a speedo and odometer, a reverse gear and a park brake, and enough adjustment to make ergonomic sense in most cases.
The range is quoted at about 24 km (around 15 mi) per charge. That's significant, as it brings most of the things an able-bodied person would choose to walk for into range. Taking a scooter arrangement like this lets you enjoy the outdoors a bit rather than being cooped up in a car.
The Firefly weighs in a little under 15 kg (33 lb), so depending on your level of disability you may well be able to pick it up and throw it in the car. But I see it more as a short to medium-range alternative that lets you leave the car at home and have a slightly less isolated trip.
Mobility gear can be very expensive, and in that regard, the Firefly is a pleasant surprise, clocking in under US$2,000. The company also offers a couple of other manual and electric assist handcycle options, as well as a very nifty dual lever drive system that drives your wheelchair using a pair of handles not unlike the top bit of an elliptical trainer.