Maker | International Cases
“TooWheels” is a project initiated by an Italian industrial designer, Fabrizio Alessio, who tries to make high-priced sports wheelchairs more affordable for general disabled people to do exercise. And he proposed solutions for breaking thresholds of high-priced sport wheelchairs. Thus, anyone can use simple bicycles components to create a sports wheelchair as they take materials on the specific spot, which just like made by a professional company.
When people run on the basketball court, normally they will buy a pair of basketball shoes as they do such sport. As different type of sports such as jogging, badminton, tennis, and football, people will purchase shoes corresponding specific types. There are varieties of brands, styles, and price options available, which often make people exclaim “It is too difficult to make right choice.”
People with disabilities have the same needs as normal people for mobility. They not only need a general purpose wheelchair to let them go anywhere, but they also need a sport wheelchair as they want to get sweat on the sports field. High priced sport wheelchairs always make those people just step back. In fact, different sports wheelchairs are designed for different sports. TooWheels founder and designer Fabrizio Alessio said, “Like the shoes we wear, you have general purpose of shoes, but we won’t wear such casual shoes to play basketball, play football or play badminton.”
However, sports wheelchairs in Taiwan that cost is from NTD20,000 to NTD100,000 upon type of sports. In Europe, a sports wheelchair that allows disabled people to compete in sport courts, the cost is at least 2,000 euros（about NTD70,000）. High-priced sports wheelchairs not only make related disability sport associations hard to purchase for disabled beginners or amateurs, but for many countries, where health welfare policies and resources are not sound and rare, sports is a dream to local disabled people.
“Italian’s health and welfare policy is actually better than others. People with disabilities can basically get wheelchair equipment provided by the government, however, for those expensive sports wheelchairs, they are not on welfare sponsorship list.” Fabrizio said that in addition to high-priced of a sport wheelchair, there are also the specification options for different type of sports. Because of technical complexity for sport wheelchairs, its components are difficult to replace with the general wheelchair parts. For that reason, he founded the TooWheels, an Open Source project, and hoped to make low cost sports wheelchairs which meet all needs of disabled people.
Not just for wheelchairs, TooWheels was originally to be an open source project and share the design knowledge.
TooWheels means “much more than wheels”. Wheelchairs are chairs with wheels, but TooWheels provides a broader meaning – it’s an open source project and an idea. Compared to the wheelchair itself, TooWheels is more like a tool or the platform, and that people can use it to transform their wheelchairs and share design ideas with different people in the future, so that everyone can download design drawing. “I hope that people feedback their improved designs with me after reference my design, and then share improve those to more people.”
“Just like sushi recipes which you found on the Internet, many of them may be written by Master chefs with their precious experience, and now shared tasteful secret to open public; if you want people to make good taste sushi, you need to share out the secret information. That’s why TooWheels is an open source project, and I want people to be able to print out 2D design diagrams with a regular photocopier, and everyone can easily make their own wheelchairs by follow the designs.” explained by Fabrizio.
TooWheels, founded in 2013, was actually based on the master degree project of Farizio. Before the establishment of TooWheels, Fabrizio just intention to reduce the threshold for the disabled who can enjoy sport, but he had no clear idea how to do it. Until the inspiration and support from school professor, he decided to take the idea with the open source route and create a knowledge sharing project.
Fabrizio joined his first maker laboratory during his school years. And that was FabLab Torino, established in 2012 and located in Turlin, an Italy important northern city. Over the years, the laboratory has also promoted digital fabrication and open source projects. With the support of the FabLab Maker community and Icaro Sport（the Italian Sports Association）, Fabrizio could worked with biomedical experts and basketball players. After many tests and improvements, the TooWheel was created, a brand new type production system of wheelchair and which can be made based on multiple architecture designs. “I did research at FabLab Torino and made a prototype of TooWheels, and that is a very important part of the whole project,” Fabrizio said.
“TooWheels is a DIY project. If it’s not through experience sharing and open source, nothing can happen. TooWheels was born with the spirit and principles of open source, which is part of its design concept and the soul of the entire project.” Fabrizio said.
Low-Cost DIY but as Professionals Made Wheelchairs
TooWheels’ appeal is that makers can use general materials such as plywood, aluminum tubes, and bicycle parts and wheels by using CNC lathes to produce a sport wheelchair. With just 200 euros（about NTD7,000）, one can create an ergonomic sports wheelchair that rivals to a professional one worth 2,000 euros.
Unlike traditional and closed generally industrial designs, TooWheels’ open source approach allows anyone in the world to download design drawings and assembly manuals from this website, either at home or at their local Fab Lab to produce, and tailored a wheelchair as their size. The first DIY self-made open source project in Italia for benefiting the disabled health, is not only lower the high-priced but breaking the barrier of technical complexity of sport wheelchair, and make sport life much easier for those people with disability.
“It’s like an iceberg. You uncover top of the iceberg with TooWheels, but there are more information and resources, experience, and knowledge sharing from designers and self-makers. For the Fab Lab community, the open source design is a very important part, we will share it as much as possible.”
Won the Italian distinction design award. Set the name aside Ferrari.
In February 2018, TooWheels won the first up-and-coming prize of the 3rd UNESCO “Creative City Network Shenzhen Creative Design”, and as early as 2014, TooWheels was selected as the Global top 30 best self-made designs of Fab Lab, the Global Awards held by the Fab Foundation, hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2016, Fabrizio, only 30 years old, won the world’s oldest and most distinction Italian Compasso d’Oro Award, set his name aside the well-known factories such as Ferrari and Ducati which are the long-time winners of this awards. When Fabrizio was able to stand side by side with admired idols of design award since his school times, he still felt surprise and said “This is unbelievable.”
TooWheels Influences Beyond Countries
TooWheels continues to evolve beyond the basketball wheelchair. Fabrizio is currently working with the coach of the FIBA-Federazione Italiana Badminton to design a sports wheelchair for badminton players. The phrases from designing prototypes to finished products were all handled by Fabrizio. In the future, he hopes to develop a DIY badminton wheelchair which can be used by disabled people around the world.
At Gujarat Technological University in India, a professor is also leading his students to study Fabrizio’s original design, hoping to transform it into a wheelchair that meets Indians’ needs and help people with disabilities with their daily tasks. Fabrizio said “I am currently working with them to use my blueprint to help design a wheelchair to meet their needs. I hope to help people with disabilities who live independently. After they studied my design and understand the principles, they would create their own version of wheelchairs which are different from mine. I will do my best to support them and share my know-how.”
In the future Fabrizio hopes to work with different Maker communities around the world to develop open source wheelchairs. “This will be the fun and challenging tasks, with complex technologies and research. TooWheels also needs to transform and evolve to achieve the goal. Ultimately, people in developing countries and every part of the world can follow Open source design to make wheelchairs for their own needs.”
Advice to Makers: Jump out of the stereotype framework with Interdisciplinary learning.
Currently, Fabrizio supports the research and development of the TooWheels program by providing consultancy services for factories and startups. He also serves as an assistant professor in the Master of Design at The Polytechnic University of Turin, where he teaches self-made movement and related design methodology courses.
Fabrizio said that TooWheels’ open source project requires a lot of time, energy, enthusiasm and the input from one’s soul. “I can proudly say that this is a job, not a weekend hobby. Through this kind of work, I have the opportunity to establish my own professional contacts with experts and designers from all areas, and constantly enhance my professional skills, and also let everyone believe in my ability as a designer.”
For those self-makers who want to invest in open source projects, Fabrizio suggests that they should be able to think and jump outside the box. They need to learn the process of research and development, with constantly review whether it still follows the original ideas and original intentions. If there may be a deviation, it can be good or bad. In addition, if the self-maker can share his ideas with the community from time to time, and then accept the opinions from all disciplines, it will help to improve the project and learn across fields.
Fabrizio revealed, “Open source sharing is a channel for creating new knowledge, not merely copying and emulating. If you are a self-maker and designer, you will use your enthusiasm to share such open source knowledge to the world.”
Open Source：refers to the use of the spirit of openness, the technology owned by others is open to others and does not charge royalties, and then evolved into a cooperative development model, which is widely used in the field of computer science.