Startup launches the first braking system for wheelchairs

No need to use your hands as brake pads, announces start-up Eppur. The Lille team designed a braking system integrated into the wheels of wheelchairs inspired by the “backpedaling” of Dutch bicycles. This patented innovation will be commercialized in France in early 2023.

The idea of ​​inventing the braking system for wheelchairs called “Dreeft” was born somewhat by chance. It all started one night in 2016. A student at Compiègne University of Technology, Colin Gallois was on his way home. On a slope, he meets a man in a wheelchair with dangerous trajectories that catches his attention. “He was descending quickly and seemed to have lost control a little bit. He was trying to slow down by squeezing the wheels with his hands, reminds Colin Gallois. I asked myself: but why doesn’t he use the brakes? »

Back at engineering school, he discusses the matter with a quadriplegic professor. “That’s when I found out that there was nothing crazy about this scene, but that people in manual wheelchairs were using their hands as brake pads”he is still surprised.

Puzzle and innovation

The young man sees this as a challenge. Gradually, he will work on a brake system during nights and weekends, in parallel with his studies, then work as an engineer at Decathlon… Until he creates the start-up Eppur in 2020, the project’s bearer, with his partner Lancelote Durand .

Quickly, he imagined new generation wheels inspired by the “backpedaling” braking system present on Dutch bicycles. And he decides to integrate a drum mechanism with metal jaws into the center of the wheel. To activate and slow it down, just pull the handrail back slightly.

A deceptively simple idea. As evidenced by the first assembled prototype… A failure. Since the braking function blocks any possibility of reversing. The equation turns out to be complex. “We had to add our system to the wheelchair without making it too wide or too heavy, without changing the users’ gestures. Always with the possibility of quickly removing the wheels… In short, maintaining the qualities of existing wheelchairs. That’s why it took almost six years to achieve it.summarizes Colin Gallois.

“Dreeft” takes the form of a pair of wheels equipped with an integrated braking system, placed in the center of the wheel, at hub level.

The result ? An approved and patented innovation. Today, the user does not just apply braking by pulling the handrail back a few centimeters. But it reverses with the same movement… In fact, the system – 100% mechanical – detects whether to slow down or reverse. Activating the first option if the vehicle is moving forward, the second when in neutral. The “Dreeft” wheelset fits today in “90% of existing armchair models”, guarantee its creators. Wheels, however, a little heavier than average – they count an extra kilo per wheel.

Safety and reduction of musculoskeletal disorders

In addition to an interest in road safety, Eppur claims a use that spares the body, requiring “five times less effort”. With direct consequences for health in the short and long term. “As a reminder, 35% of paraplegics suffer from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) of the shoulder after six months of using a wheelchair, 70% after twenty years”indicates the company Lille, citing specialist Claire Marchiori, author of a doctoral thesis in biomechanics.

It should be noted that the innovation was designed and tested, step by step, in consultation with people with disabilities. In particular in connection with the GrHandiOse association, personalities such as youtuber Martin Petit. But also health professionals from a dozen rehabilitation centers, from Bordeaux to Berck.

80 pre-orders to be delivered soon

Made in France, the product is assembled in the B’Twin village, the Decathlon bicycle factory located in the North, the brake system produced upstream in the West.

Eppur Wheelchair Brake Makers
Colin Gallois (left) and Lancelot Durand, co-founders of Lille start-up Eppur in 2020.

Proof that the start-up meets a real need, in two years Eppur has won a number of supporters. Passed by the incubator and accelerator Eurasanté (Lille), supported by Bpifrance, it received, among other awards, the Handitech Trophy, in the mobility for all category, sponsored by SNCF Réseau. At the end of 2022, Eppur also raised €1.2 million from various investors to finance the launch of its first product.

An innovation that is happening today in the daily life of the French. “Eighty pre-orders will be delivered over the next few weeks. And the first sales will officially start in February.”Announces Colin Gallois Today.

In terms of price, the pair of wheels and their adapters cost €1,990, indicative public price. No Social Security help for the time being. But Eppur’s leaders hope nevertheless to gain support in the coming years.

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