The ongoing effort to improve the wheelchair isn’t just about electricity and advanced technology.

TESS Co.’s Cogy wheelchair, designed for people who have trouble walking but can still move their legs, is pedal-powered, says the firm’s representative director, Kenji Suzuki.

“You can start pedaling smoothly as soon as you sit down,” he said, adding that many users would rather move with their own strength rather than depend on an electric wheelchair, but do not realize such technology exists.

People with conditions such as spina bifida, partial leg paralysis due to stroke and partial paralysis of limbs due to spinal cord injury are among users able to pedal the wheelchair.

The Cogy wheelchair features two pedals for moving forward and a hand-operated control to change directions or to stop. Although its functions are kept to a minimum, Suzuki said one of the chair’s assets is its rather compact size relative to conventional wheelchairs.

“A bicycle requires the whole body to be stretched. However, in Cogy, the body is seated and bent.

“It makes the optimal position for the spinal cord to be stimulated. Through spinal reflex, one foot follows the motion of the other foot, enabling pedaling,” he said.

Suzuki established the company in 2008 as a joint venture with Tohoku University to produce products using what they call neuromodulation technology, which offers therapies without medication or surgery.

The original Cogy mechanism was developed by Yasunobu Handa, a professor emeritus at the university. Suzuki and his company helped to contribute a catchy concept and design to make it more acceptable to the public.

“It originally weighed over 100 kg and was too heavy and difficult to control. We established the company to produce Cogy, which is much improved with regard to its design and functionality,” said Suzuki.

Cogy comes in a medium size for those up to 180 cm tall and large for those who are taller. Both sizes weigh under 20 kg.

Its vivid yellow and red colors are also a notable feature.

“We wanted to get rid of the rather depressing image of wheelchairs,” said Executive Vice President Hisato Tsuga.

“We wanted people in wheelchairs to become more positive and be more actively engaged in society,” he added.

Tsuga said Cogy is now used in hospitals and other facilities as a rehabilitation tool, but individuals are also buying it for daily use, and roughly 7,000 units have been sold worldwide to date.

“One of our customers was able to make his dream come true — he traveled abroad with his wife,” Suzuki said.

He said the man required nursing and had been bedridden, but has now become able to stand on his own.

“Wheelchairs used to have a negative image, but I receive many messages from (Cogy) users that it’s a fun experience. We share that joy by saying, ‘You’re able to stand up,'” he said.

Meanwhile a description of the product on its webpage asks, “What if your wheelchair actually becomes an opportunity to help you move your legs again?

“Most users are surprised,” said Suzuki, “and some even cry after riding this Cogy wheelchair.”

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