Revolutionary wheelchair will benefit millions
Kevin Halsall has invented a machine that will change lives, millions of them worldwide.
Kevin, an engineering pattern maker from Otaki in Horowhenua, has built a revolutionary wheelchair not just for his friend, paraplegic Marcus Thompson, but for 11,000 disabled people in New Zealand who rely on a wheelchair for mobility.
Kevin’s invention, called the Ogo, blends cutting edge electronics with innovative body driven control which frees the users’ hands to do anything they want.
“It’s given another dimension of mobility to my life,” says Marcus, a secondary school teacher, who broke his back in a high speed skiing accident.
The Ogo hasn’t just pleased Kevin and Marcus. It’s been endorsed by five Manawatu business leaders who awarded it the BCC Innovate 2015 grand prize award of $10,000 and this month was a finalist at the New Zealand Innovators’ Awards in Auckland.
Kevin’s interest in helping Marcus began about four years ago. They’d known each other for several years and Marcus had taught Kevin’s two daughters, Erina and Della. Both Kevin and Marcus enjoyed field archery where contestants move through bush and rough terrain to shoot at 28 targets.
Kevin observed Marcus struggling in his conventional wheelchair and exhausting his energy and stamina before the competition was over. Kevin’s challenge was to make it easy for Marcus. His research led him to a Segway, a self-balancing, battery powered electric vehicle which has censors in its base.
These sensors enable the driver to move forwards or backwards by shifting their weight in the direction they want to move. Kevin realised these same concepts could be applied to a wheelchair.
He spent hundreds of hours over four years experimenting until he designed and manufactured a sturdy wheelchair that could be manoeuvred by the body, leaving the hands free to do whatever the driver wanted. 
“By utilising Segway technology I produced an active, moving seat control, operated by upper body mobility and core muscle strength,” Kevin said. “When the driver leans forward, the wheelchair moves forward, when he or she leans back the wheelchair reverses. When they lean to the side, the wheelchair swivels in the new direction.”
This provides the driver with free hand and arm movement. They can do something as functional as holding a cup of coffee in one hand, opening a door with the other and moving through to another room or outside.
In Marcus’s case, he can carry and move objects, power along the undulating beach at up to 20 kph and, in particular, mow his lawns. “’I’ve been frustrated for so long but I can do things I haven’t done for years,” he says. 
“It’s therapeutic and healing for the soul. With my hands free, I’m able to use my whole body to carry out tasks again.”
However, to add extra safety and security, the Ogo comes complete with a thumb controlled joystick. By activating a switch, it locks the left and right movement of the seat and transfers the steering control to the joystick for a more conventional feel.
The machine has been endorsed by occupational therapists who maintain that driving the Ogo with the upper body provides the exercise it needs. 
Kevin is delighted Manawatu based BCC (Building Clever Companies) has rewarded his invention and he is now talking to investors and business leaders as well as receiving calls from people around the world wanting to purchase his machine. His aim is to start production in the new year.
“This is revolutionary for people with disabilities. It will change lives,” he says. 
BCC Marketing Manager, Dave Craig, says Kevin’s wheelchair will go from Otaki around the globe and reinforces that world class products do come out of regional New Zealand. 
“Innovate was created to find regional inventors like Kevin. He doesn’t need to base himself in Auckland, Wellington or the Silicon Valley. He can craft his invention in his home town and let Innovate help with scale,” he says.
Kevin Halsall is aware of 67 million people worldwide with disabilities and he knows that Ogo will benefit many of them.