Two Nairn-based entrepreneurs are preparing to launch a revolutionary new wheelchair at a major mobility exhibition in London later this month.
Andrew and Mary Slorance of I-Imagine Ltd have developed 'Carbon Black', a stylish, custom-designed carbon fibre wheelchair which will be launched to the world on October 19 at Naidex South.
Naidex South is the homecare, disability and rehabilitation exhibition for London and the South East, supported by the Mayor of London. The conference is co-locating with the GLA Disability Capital Conference 2011 and the programme will have a strong theme around the 2012 Paralympics Games.
I-Imagine has been awarded funding by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) towards the development of 'Carbon Black'. HIE awarded I-Imagine £49,700 towards, building a second prototype, photography, website design and further development of the first phase of proof of concept already undertaken by the company.
An NHS survey in 2004 estimated that there were 1.2 million wheelchair users in England and Wales. Scotland has approximately 96,000 wheelchair users with around 20,000 new users annually across the UK. Carbon Black is aimed at the active independent user and in particular those who have suffered a spinal cord injury (SCI). There are 40,000 individuals in the UK living with SCI and approximately 1,200 new injury victims annually. Increased armed forces injuries are further adding to these figures.
Many conventional wheelchairs have a number of inherent design issues, Carbon Black has been designed from the ground up to eliminate these problems. The carbon fibre monocoque construction is built by F1 engineers, bringing cutting edge technology to a product that has been stuck in evolution for 25 years.
The lightweight design and accessibility improvements result in a chair that can practically assist the user's lifestyle while also looking stylish.
Managing Director of I-Imagine, Andrew Slorance has been a wheelchair user for 28 years after a spinal injury at the age of 14. Andrew's first-hand experience has helped him to implement his concepts and designs.
His designs and successful career in television production have also helped bring partners on board such as world-renowned motorsport company Prodrive, which built the first prototype. BBC Scotland has been following the project for a year making a dedicated documentary following Andrew and Mary in their quest to revolutionise the wheelchair.
Andrew said: "For many years I have thought the wheelchair could be so much better and so much more stylish. Three years ago I began the process of re-designing the wheelchair as we know it. I wanted Carbon Black to solve many of the problems I have faced with my conventional chairs over the years.
"Re-designing the wheelchair so it became a piece of stunning technology rather than a piece of medical equipment was just part of my aim with Carbon Black. I want to empower its user with increased confidence from a chair that is cutting edge, yet minimal in its appearance - more person, less chair.
"A wide range of improvements to the usability of the wheelchair as we know it will offer a better quality of life to the user. The revolutionary frame shape brings access benefits, while the full carbon construction is extremely lightweight with optimum strength, huge weight saving and maximum energy efficiency is achieved through the monocoque design.
"This is just the beginning, we have a whole range of ground breaking products in development. Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been fantastic, I am thrilled to have received this grant and the ongoing package of business support is invaluable."
Mary Slorance said "We embarked upon this project because we could see there was a real need to improve the wheelchair for active independent users worldwide. We are very grateful to HIE for their support that has helped us get to the position where we can launch Carbon Black to the market"
Caroline MacLellan, Development Manager at HIE, said: "I-Imagine Ltd is part of the HIE account management process and we have been working closely with Andrew to help him with the next stage in bringing Carbon Black to market. Andrew has led this project from the outset and his designs are completely different to anything that is currently available at the moment.
"The design solves problems Andrew himself has experienced. For example, using a wheelchair in the dark is very precarious and holding a torch and pushing a wheelchair is impractical. Andrew has installed forward illuminating LED lights into the frame of the chair so the user can have light when ever they need it. This is one of a number of simple yet effective solutions Andrew and Mary have included.
"We have no doubts that these innovative designs will revolutionise the international wheelchair market."
As well as funding, HIE has assisted I-Imagine with attendance on the International Preparedness Programme in partnership with Scottish Development International (SDI) and the company took part in Business Mentoring through a partnership of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, HIE, and the European Social Fund (ESF). I-Imagine has previously been awarded funding through SMART: Scotland.