'Gecko Traxx' is a portable and affordable solution which allows manual wheelchair users to access the beach and other off-road terrains. 'Gecko Traxx' is a flexible set of tyres that can be easily carried inside a small backpack and fit securely around the existing on-road tyres of a wheelchair for when challenging terrain is encountered, giving the wheelchair immediate off-road capability.
The innovative and unique cross-section allows them to be unobtrusive when fitted to the wheelchair and expand, increasing the contact surface area only where needed.
These are the first of their kind, allowing travel and access to the outdoors and natural environment to be easy and spontaneous. By enabling this kind of positive social engagement and inclusion within the wider community, the 'Gecko Traxx' tyre can help improve not only physical wellbeing but also psychological wellbeing.
The extremely simple design enables this product to be easily manufactured, thus it is significantly more affordable than any other current solution. The product is extremely robust, largely due to its simplicity, thus the combination of affordability and robustness maximizes its ability from a business perspective to be scaled and have a real impact where it is most needed. Not only is there a demand for this product in beach environments for leisure purposes, but also in places where it is critically needed such as remote indigenous communities in outback Australia and in developing countries where wheelchair access is extremely challenging due to underdeveloped infrastructure.
Being manufactured only from natural rubber and requiring no inserts or fillers, the product is fully recyclable. Once the Gecko Traxx tires are worn out, they can simply be shredded and moulded into a brand-new set of tires, recognizing our Earth's need for sustainability and a circular economy.
Access to the beach or any other outdoor environments should be easy and available to everyone. However, it is not.
The country of Australia has arguably one of the most prominent and prolific beach cultures in the world, with some 10,685 beaches nationwide, many are ranked amongst the world's most beautiful destinations. Yet the sand and the beach is possibly the most challenging and inaccessible place for a wheelchair user. In fact, only 31 beaches in Australia are accessible when beach mats and beach wheelchairs are available at the site. This means that only 0.2% of Australian beaches are accessible and inclusive... 0.2%! This problem is not only confined to Australia, but is also a common problem throughout the rest of the world.
Because of this, many individuals who experience limited mobility or have a physical disability do not consider the beach as a possible destination because of the inherent inaccessibility. Even worse I have personally witnessed many wheelchair users just sitting and watching the fun at the beach from the concrete path. I have heard reports of people dragging themselves across the sand to go for a surf.
I think it is completely unacceptable and so I am on a mission to solve this problem!
Hi, my name is Ryan Tilley and I am an Industrial Designer and Mechanical Engineer. You might wonder, why does this able-bodied person care about wheelchair beach accessibility. Well long story short, my passion for developing assistive technology came from an experience on a design study tour where I voluntarily spent three days navigating the streets of Singapore in a wheelchair. This was an amazing experience and helped to develop a deeper empathy for people with a disability. By experiencing the nuances of public behaviour and perceptions, it helped me to really understand what wheelchair users experienced on a daily basis. From this experience, I felt a deep desire to use my skills in product development to help fellow human beings who have limited mobility, to experience the outdoors and natural environment with spontaneity and ease – something that I love to do.
From this, 'Gecko Traxx' was born. Gecko Traxx is a product that seeks the address issue of wheelchair beach access. This was inspired by a wheelchair user, Huy Nguyen who lived near the beach, yet found it cumbersome and hard to access his local beach. Partnering up to solve this problem, the goal of this project was to create a 'portable way for manual wheelchair users to access the beach'. We designed with the understanding that if we can conquer the beach, we can conquer most other off-road terrains.
By using a co-design approach, and teaming up to solve this problem, the nuances and problems faced that can only be understood through a lived experienced came to the fore. By understanding these needs, one can gain deep insights into what is required and is well positioned to create a solid design direction and well-informed considerations.
Some of these considerations included:
· The device needs to be extremely portable. (Pack down to a small size and light weight).
· It had to be produced at a low cost to ensure that the final product was easily affordable.
· The device had to be easy-to-use and be designed for individuals with limited dexterity.
· In addition to the user considerations, environmentally I wanted to ensure that the product was fully recyclable and minimised the use of natural resources.
The process started out as creatively as possible, blocking out pre-existing ideas and solutions about tracks or large balloon tyres and trying to draw inspiration from the natural environment. After much sketching and conceptualising, the ideas were explained and those with the most merit were chosen by groups of wheelchair users. The pros and cons of each were discussed and how each element met certain needs or problems many of the wheelchair users currently faced. The strongest concept, which was inspired by the function and spreading motion of a gecko foot was prototyped and tested. This was aided by the use of 3D printing technology, which allowed quick iterations and design changes as the cross-section of the tyre was refined. The range of wheelchair tyres and sizes had to be understood firstly to create the most universal design as possible. The first prototypes were testing for how well the tyre fitted and secured to the existing wheel. Subsequent prototypes were all focused on the refinement of the cross-section and flaring/expanding performance.
By witnessing first hand and understanding the pain-point of an individual having to transfer from his/her wheelchair to fit an off-road set of wheels, prompted us to consider the overall user experience of the Gecko Traxx product. The goal was that the individual would not have to transfer from their wheelchair, rather they should be able to fit the over-tyre while still seated in the chair.
This caused us to design a clip into the tyre, allowing the tyre to be split and rolled into, before locking closed on the existing wheel – requiring minimal effort. To ensure that the product was still robust and easy to manufacture, the challenge was to design the clip with no inserts and no additional material. The clip was designed with a wide, self-locating catch, and incorporated tactile features to enable users who have limited dexterity or low vision to easily operate the clip. While incorporating these features assist in making the product more inclusive and universal, these features also make the product generally easier to use for all individuals.
A certain amount of material exploration went into this project, but due to the constraints of creating a low-cost product, while ensuring durability and recyclability – natural rubber was chosen as the final material. By choosing this material and locking it down early on in the design process, it allowed us to collaborate with a local rubber manufacturing factory. By visiting the factory and understanding the manufacturing process early on, combined with regular reviews ensured that throughout the design process, one was giving constant consideration for manufacturability. From this, we were able to understand how the process of recycling rubber works and incorporate it into our product. Our desire to create a product that had a minimal environmental impact was realised with the ability to be able to create a fully circular product lifecycle with the recycled rubber material.
The lifecycle of the tyre is simple and looks something like this:
1. Tyre is initially moulded using only recycled rubber.
2. Tyre is used and becomes worn over time.
3. The tyre is encouraged to be returned for a 20% discount on a new set.
4. This old tyre is then shredded, and the rubber recycled allowing it to be re-moulded into a new tyre.
5. The process repeats.
The Gecko Traxx tyre was designed primarily for 'active' wheelchair users – individuals who enjoy being outdoors and enjoy challenges. It is ideal for going to the beach, camping, fishing and navigating rural areas, even attending music festivals where soft grass is often present. However, in addition to the independent individuals, it also provides enormous benefits for families and carers who want to push their child's or parent's wheelchair along the beach or other soft, off-road terrains, as it significantly reduces the effort required. Throughout the design process feedback from many wheelchair users was sort out and applied to the design. A local Melbourne wheelchair distributer, Melrose Wheelchairs was also a big contributor to feedback on the design. As their customer base is primarily active, sporty individuals, it was a great opportunity to test the prototypes with customers before committing to tooling. As Melrose Wheelchairs and multiple other companies have expressed keen interest to sell the product, going forwards we have opted for both B2B and B2C distribution methods.
The prototypes were subjected to much testing using feedback from wheelchair users. However, this was only qualitative feedback with individuals agreeing that it was easier, but our question was, "How much easier?". To understand exactly how much easier Gecko Traxx made the task of navigating sand, we designed a test rig to quantify this improvement in efficiency. This test rig consisted of a manual wheelchair which was motorised, and the load of the motor measured through the amount of current it was drawing. From the data gathered from this test rig over many different surfaces, it was plain when comparing the on-road tyre and the Gecko Traxx tyre, that the Gecko Traxx decreased the amount of force required by around 50%.
Featured in ABC News Australia, Gecko Traxx is a portable and affordable way for manual wheelchair users to access the beach. It is an over-tyre that fits around the existing on-road wheels of the wheelchair and allows it to navigate sand, soft grass, snow and other soft, off-road terrains. It works through a unique cross-section that expands when in contact with the ground, increasing surface area.