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Most Innovative Mobility Solution

August 31, 2017

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Hong Kong Technology Awards - Most Innovative Mobility Solution – Hong Kong


Deeply touched by the disadvantaged situations some people find themselves in, Mr. Lee Siu Lun, Alan, founder of B-Free Technology Limited, started to create the world’s first ever twopart pedrail design power wheelchair to help wheelchair users to overcome barriers and to regain mobility and respect.

First of all, Alan outlines to us what inspired him to create and develop a wheelchair that would enable users to have more accessibility to places, where previously they have not been so welcome.

“Without a doubt, wheelchair is a great invention to help people suffering from mobility difficulties to regain certain freedom by sitting in a chair with wheels. Such freedom however, is limited to smooth surfaces only.”

“The deep, shameful feeling of asking and waiting for assistance to get in and out of the lobby of his apartment had put a young paraplegic off going outside, and ended up locking himself in his own flat like a prisoner for eight years in Hong Kong. Four strong men were required to carry him and his wheelchair up and down the staircase with five steps at the lobby of his apartment. This young lad was also discriminated by his neighbours of blocking their way. With his persistence on the very lengthy process, he was lucky enough to be helped by the Equal Opportunities Commission to persuade the owners’ corporation of the apartment to build a permanent ramp under the context of the Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO). The outcome was positive. Apart from Hong Kong, straight historic preservation regulations in Europe often blocks installation of handrails, stair lifts or other assistive facilities in historic buildings and areas.”

Alan’s idea was appreciated by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) and was invited to its Incubation Program. With his creative mind of product design and R&D assistance provided by HKSTP, the innovative concept version B-Free Chair was successfully created in late 2014. The invention was promptly secured by invention patents and won the Gold Award at the International Exhibition of Inventions in Geneva.

The concept version, B-Free Chair, was already one of the leading stair-climbing wheelchairs on the market at the time, in terms of cost, safety, agility, reliability and creativity. Conventional stair-climbing wheelchairs and stair-climbers are operated by single pedrails that only hook onto the nosing of the stairs to enable grip for stair-climbing. Such hooking mechanisms are insufficient to sustain an accidental push from behind on stairs and risks sliding both the user and the equipment down the stairs.

The B-Free Ranger hit the market in late 2016 and has since successfully obtained invention Patents in over 10 countries including Australia, China, EU, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan, UK and the US.

Importantly, the B-Free Ranger is agile both indoors and outdoors. It enables a high degree of mobility and accessibility with four operation modes, namely Surf Mode (for smoother surface), SUV Mode (for rugged terrain such as cobblestone streets found in many European countries, curb and platform gap), Stair Mode (for general staircases and steps, slopes that exceed 25° incline but not more than 30) and Steep Mode (for steep staircases and steps, slopes that exceed 30° incline but not more than 35). In other words, the B-Free Ranger is able to negotiate most terrains and climb most staircases. Alan talks us through how the safety of the product is essential to his innovation, enabling wheelchair users to feel comfortable and safe, listing the stringent checks done on the product.

“Product safety is of utmost concern in product design. Firstly, an emergency stop button is clearly installed as per CE requirement. Secondly, the patented “Pear-shaped pedrail system” functions not only to “hook” the nosing but also firmly and stably “step” and “prop” on the tread of the stairs. Therefore, the wheelchair is able to sustain enormous force from behind and not to be toppled while on stairs. Thirdly, the stair-climbing system is mechanical driven, not electronically. No electronic sensors are installed on the patented semi-wheel and semipedrail design because shinny and slippery surfaces, and broken steps can easily affect sensor readings to impose wrong commands. In addition, the seat-balancing system is always activated in Stair and Steep Mode to automatically adjust the seat angle to ensure the user to be horizontally balanced constantly.”

“Further real-time stringent structural and mechanical tests have been carried out. The “Drop Test” is to drop the whole wheelchair from a height to check whether any components or parts are not firmly tightened or installed. The “Endurance Test” demands the B-Free Ranger to climb up and down the stairs non-stop for more than 50,000 steps! Do not be surprised. You have counted the right number of zeros. It is tested for Fifty thousand steps. The “Fire Test” has accredited B-Free Ranger’s product materials such as seat cushion and back rest for fire resistance.”

Alan discusses the work that staff do at the firm, working with the customer to ensure they get the right chair and the right safety materials required for their disability. Staff at the company are passionate and dedicated, aiming to not only meet, but also exceed client’s demands.

“The most superb product will not glow in the dark without proper business strategy planning. B2C – Our team is passionate and dedicated. Upon receiving an enquiry, we will contact the person over the phone to understand the requirements of the user, such as outdoor/indoor usage, step measurements and type of staircases. We will then arrange a site visit and onsite product demonstration. If everything is fine, a unit can be delivered to the user within 30 days after payment is received. A user training program will be arranged at the user’s earliest convenience. B2B - B-Free continues to participate in both local and overseas exhibitions to showcase our products to connect with potential distributors, agents and actual users in the regions. B-Free commits to providing a complete support to all distributors and agents, including product, promotional and technical trainings, etc. to help them to gain product knowledge and build their confidence. Staffs can always travel to the region for assistance, if necessary and upon request.”

“Considering the different types of users, our products can be customized and personalized. The Standard version and the wheel version are noticeably different. The latter offers a smoother user experience on flat terrain as the rubber wheels may absorb shocks and vibrations more, but users may experience a little bit more vibrations with the former. This may easily be overcome by using a more shock absorbing seat cushion. To address different body size, different size of seats, 14 or 16 inches, can be installed easily with the simple 4-screw seat replacement design. For the less able users, rear mirrors or cameras and other integrated supporting system and accessories can be added to the products.”

Recognising all the work that has gone into producing this excellent innovative product, Alan believes that the passion and communication skills of staff at the company have contributed greatly to the success of the wheelchair.

“Being a winner of the Hong Kong Technology Awards is a glory not to any one person but to the whole team who has worked diligently over the years. It is a recognition of our work and our passion to serve the differently abled. Passion and open to communication are key attributes to be successful. Passion drives new ideas and design while communication points out areas for improvement and changes.”

“Challenges are always there from research and development, production, promotion and sales and marketing. Fortunately, all aspects are set up in one convenience location for easy management. Since demand and orders are rapidly growing in overseas markets, our distribution strategy is oriented to target the European markets first.”

Spreading the word of the products is essential to helping the company grow, as Alan discusses some of the challenges he faces, particularly as the product is brand new in the market. Competing with others in the healthcare equipment industry can be quite tough but Alan is confident that both the staff and the product will rise to the challenge.

“Since our products are brand new in the market, we are often challenged during exhibitions and onsite demonstrations, especially on the endurance and driving position while climbing stairs. Clear answers have to be given to earn confidence and acceptance from the users. For example, B-Free Ranger is able to climb as many steps as the batteries may last for. And, while sitting in a normal chair, the body’s centre of gravity is naturally shifted backward. Forward facing to climb any upward staircases risks backward toppling of the wheelchair. Therefore, backward facing to the staircase is the safest approach for stairclimbing.”

“Hong Kong’s medical and healthcare equipment industry mainly targets the household consumer market and is export-oriented. The Belt and Road Initiative will increase share of medical knowledge and services and household healthcare expenditures in the involved developing countries. This can be translated into more opportunities for B-Free to open more overseas markets. This fits very well to our distribution strategy, targeting the European markets first followed by other overseas markets.”

“As our brand name is building up with more overseas orders, we will be able to lower the production cost, hence reducing the local retail price to an affordable level to benefit local users.”
Alan discusses the future of the firm and future products, again discussing the passion of staff and the mission of the firm.

“At the company, our passion and mission will press on to globalize stair-climbing wheelchair, achieving ultimately that when we see a wheelchair on the street, we know it can climb stairs! B-Free Ranger is only the beginning of more inspired versions to come. Replying to the market demand, the upcoming patented B-Free Flash is in its final testing stage and will soon be ready for commercial production. Comparing with B-Free Ranger, it is a more simple and compact design. Its simple two operation modes, Surf Mode and Stair Mode, and smaller turning radius make it perfect for indoor usage. We believe that B-Free Flash is more able to meet demands of most Asian countries where more narrow staircases and confine spaces are found.”

 

Company: B-Free Technology Ltd.

Name: Alan Siu Lun Lee

Email: alan@b-free.hk

Web Address: www.b-free.hk

Address: Unit 231, 2/F., Building 16W, Phase 3, Hong Kong Science and Technology Park, Shatin, Hong Kong.

Telephone: 852-3704 7069

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