Toyota Foundation and Nesta Launch $4 Million Global Challenge to Create ‘Smart’ Mobility Devices

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by Patricia Silva PhD |

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Teams of inventors working to improve mobility for people with lower-limb paralysis, including those with multiple sclerosis (MS), are invited to take part in a $4 million technology challenge launched by Toyota Mobility Foundation and Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre.

The most common causes of lower-limb paralysis are MS, spinal cord injury, and stroke. About one-third of people with MS lose their ability to walk in part or whole, the National MS Society reports, and most patients will require assistance in walking, like the use of a cane.

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge wants to improve life for people with lower-limb paralysis by rewarding innovative solutions for personal mobility devices that incorporate intelligent systems, from artificial intelligence (AI), to exoskeletons and machine learning.

The challenge is seeking teams worldwide to develop such technologies. It is particularly looking for solutions that integrate “smart” mobility technology with the potential to create personal devices that integrate with the user’s body and the environment.

Applications from teams are available online and open through Feb. 7, 2018.

Awards worth $50,000 each will be given to 10 teams in April to develop their applications, and judges will select five finalists from among those 10 on Jan. 14, 2019. Each team of finalists will receive $500,000 to advance their ideas into a prototype. The challenge winner, to be announced in Tokyo in September 2020,  will be awarded $1 million to bring its device to the market.

“This is the beginning of our challenge, a three-year journey concluding in Tokyo in 2020. A journey where the greatest minds in technology, design and engineering, from every corner of the world, will compete to make the environment and society more accessible for people with lower-limb paralysis” Ryan Klem, director of programs for Toyota Mobility Foundation, said in a press release. “We know we don’t have solutions yet: this Challenge is about working with the people who can help develop them.”

The technology for innovative devices that improve mobility exists, but fragmented markets, regulator restrictions and other challenges can hamper its development. The award program was created to overcome these obstacles, and to promote the work of  smaller research groups who that otherwise struggle to break into the assistive technology market.

“Challenge Prizes are a way to make innovation happen. The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is about the freedom to move. It will support innovators, creating cutting-edge personal mobility devices incorporating smart technology and intelligent systems that will transform people’s lives,” said Charlotte Macken of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre.

A number of celebrities with limited mobility — in fields ranging from sports to media and technology — are serving as challenge global ambassadors, including August de los Reyes, head of Design at Pinterest; Preethi Srinivasan, an Indian athlete and campaigner; and Tatyana McFadden, a U.S. Paralympian.

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