Could artificial intelligence or new robotics technology create the wheelchair of the future? That's the question that has motivated former Xbox designer August de Los Reyes, who is now head of design and research at Pinterest, to get behind a new $4m prize which aims to motivate inventors everywhere to head down to their labs and get building.
The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is the result of a partnership between the Toyota Mobility Foundation and Nesta - the UK based innovation foundation, and the aim is to harness new technologies to improve the lives of people with lower limb paralysis.
"The world’s greatest minds have created innovations impacting billions of people’s lives—even sending technologies across the solar system. Yet, for many people with lower-limb paralysis, an everyday task like leaving our homes is a challenge in itself", explains August, who himself uses a wheelchair. "We can do better. It’s my belief that disability is an outcome of design."
The prize is also backed by a number of other prominent people who benefit from such technology - including US Paralympian Tatanya McFadden and British TV presenter Sophie Morgan.
The prize fund currently sits at $4m (just over £3m), and will be dished out to five finalists who will each receive $500,000 to take the concepts from idea to prototype, and then the panel of judges will hand one lucky winner a cool $1m to make their product available to the general public. If you want to enter, you've got plenty of the time, as the winner will be announced in Tokyo in 2020.
The motivation behind the prize appears to be just that: To provide a motivation. The reason the market is disincentivized to solve mobility issues organically is because of what the organisers describe as small and fragmented markets, regulatory burdens and complex reimbursement schemes involving healthcare providers. So hopefully a big wodge of cash can change that equation.
The organisers say that the challenge is open to personal mobility devices of all types - not just wheelchairs, and can use any technology, such as exoskeletons and AI, as long as they improve personal mobility. We're looking forward to rolling our eyes at the first person to suggest this is something the Blockchain can do already.
You can find out more on the Mobility Unlimited website.