Hands-free wheelchair prototype 'Ogo' built in Kapiti shed of dismantled Segway
A Segway rebuilt into a hands-free wheelchair with a top speed of 20kmh is on the verge of mass production.
The Ogo, built in an Otaki shed by Kevin Halsall has reached its third prototype, and with a few more tweaks will be ready for sale - with the help of investor support.
There is only one Ogo in existence - a hand-built fibreglass prototype, which would only need a few more tweaks before being production-ready.
Halsall built the first version of the Ogo four years ago with his mate Marcus Thompson, who is a paraplegic, in mind.
It started when Halsall first hopped on a Segway.
"The first thing I thought was 'if I didn't have my legs this would be the perfect thing I'd be adapting'."
In its first version he borrowed a Segway and added a bolt-on seat, but "it needed to go a stage further", he said.
"The steering and the sensing of it needed to be refined more, and the only way I could do that was getting into the guts of the Segway."
That meant he had to buy his own Segway, costing about $14,000, which he could strip apart.
Halsall's work left only the "bare bones" of the Segway, with a new patented moving seat control installed.
Mastering a Segway can be a challenge - the devices operated by leaning on the handlebars to steer, and transferring weight back and forwards for accelerating and breaking.
The moving seat made the acceleration and braking more responsive to movements from the rider's core muscles, he said.
His mate Thompson used the device to mow his lawns, and trialled it at his work as a teacher at Otaki College.
Halsall said the doing things like picking up items and moving round while holding them, and mowing lawns, sounded mundane to most people.
"But when you're in a wheelchair you just can't do it."
Thompson got a buzz out of mowing his lawns, Halsall said, because as a paraplegic he previously relied on others to do work like that.
The Ogo comes with additional wide wheels that allow it to become "an off-road monster", he said.
Halsall said in ideal conditions the Segway powering the Ogo had a range of about 40 kilometres, but with everyday use would travel about 30km.
"Marcus, he's had it going from his home to the school, all day at the school, in the classroom environment, then back home again."
Halsall said the machine itself was perfectly safe but its high speed and control challenges created a "danger element".
This, he said, was part of the attraction.
"Nothing is really exciting unless it's got a bit of an element of danger."
Halsall, a plastic products designer, built the Ogo in his shed on his property in Otaki.
The Ogo is a finalist in the Innovate awards covering the region, competing against 10 other inventions in the finals at the end of August.
It is part of a bid to generate interest in the device from angel investors, alongside a potential run for crowdfunding.
He said he was still looking for someone with business and commercialisation expertise to launch the product globally.
His goal is to start manufacturing the Ogo and then create new electronic products for people with disabilities.
"The scale of the manufacturing side of things can be scaled-up as it grows. The more the better."