SBIR and STTR Success Story for
Three Rivers Holdings, LLC

(Information Posted/Updated on 07/06/2004)

Three Rivers Holdings, LLC
1826 West Broadway Rd. Suite 43
Mesa, AZ  85202

Contact:    David Boninger, Ph.D.
Phone:      480-833-1829
Fax:          480-833-1837
Web Site:

Project Title:  The SmartWheel: Development of Wheelchair Pushrim Force and Measurement Device
Related Award(s):  R41 HD39020-01 (Phase I); R41 HD39020-02 (Phase II)
Technology Developed:
The SmartWheel examines the biomechanics of wheelchair propulsion by precisely measuring parameters including stroke frequency, propulsion angle, acceleration, forces applied to the handrim, velocity, and distance traveled. The SmartWheel is the only commercial product in the world that measures propulsion biomechanics in the natural environment of the wheelchair user. The SmartWheel's high-speed wireless technology, sophisticated on-board computer, and user-friendly interface allow for the collection of wheelchair propulsion data in nearly any lab, clinical or field setting. The unique capabilities that the SmartWheels offers have the potential to revolutionize wheelchair-related rehabilitation research and clinical practice.

Key Words:  wheelchairs, wheelchair propulsion, wheelchair biomechanics, measurement, wheelchair positioning, wheelchair selection, wheelchair seating, insurance justification.
Uses of Technology/Products/Service:
The SmartWheel is a research tool and is being developed as a clinical tool. As a research tool, the SmartWheel has been used for over a decade to measure the biomechanics of wheelchair propulsion and, in turn, enhance understanding of the causes of pain and injury among wheelchair users. Dr. Rory A. Cooper and his colleagues built the original hard-wired SmartWheel and published the first paper (Asato, Cooper, Robertson, & Steer, 1993) validating its use as a propulsion biomechanics measurement tool. Since then, research has continued to accumulate on the antecedents and consequences of manual wheelchair propulsion biomechanics. The SmartWheel has also been used to study how wheelchair equipment decisions affect propulsion and to demonstrate the efficacy of interventions intended to improve an individual’s ability to propel a wheelchair. Today, wireless SmartWheels produced by Three Rivers reside at leading research institutions across the US and Canada including the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the Rehabilitation Institute of Montreal, the University of Washington, the Kessler Medical Rehabilitation Research and Education Corporation, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Alberta.

The SmartWheel is also being developed as a leading edge clinical tool that can assist clinicians with:

1) Justification of Equipment Decisions for Insurance Reimbursement: The data generated by the SmartWheel provides a quantified, concrete, and easily understood justification for wheelchair-related equipment decisions. For example, because the SmartWheel measures the amount of force a person is able to apply to the wheelchair handrim, it can be used to determine (and justify) whether an individual may be best suited for a manual, power-assist, or power wheelchair.

2) Selection of the Appropriate Manual Wheelchair: The SmartWheel allows for comparisons of force and power output profiles as the user propels in different manual wheelchairs. So, for example, a user's performance (e.g., propulsion efficiency) can be compared when propelling in a lightweight chair vs. an ultra-lightweight chair.

3) Training Wheelchair Users to Improve Propulsion Efficiency: Training can be employed to assist wheelchair users to reduce the stress on their arms by using a longer stroke, reducing their stroke frequency, and minimizing wasted forces (e.g., pushing directly down on the handrim). Because the SmartWheel provides biofeedback information including real-time values for parameters such as stroke length and peak force, this real-time feedback can assist wheelchair users to maximize their propulsion efficiency.

4) Creation of a Patient Data Base: Data collection with the SmartWheel is fully automated. Each time a client propels a wheelchair on which a SmartWheel has been mounted, a complete report is automatically generated. These reports can then be easily imported into a database. This database can be used to further support equipment decisions (by allowing referral to similar cases in the past) and can be used to compare a client's propulsion efficiency from one clinic visit to the next, providing the clinician with the ability to track the progress of physical therapy on propulsion ability.

Taken together, these applications of the SmartWheel will play an important role in helping clinicians quantify the process of wheelchair selection and training, and will help to reduce the risk of pain and injury (e.g., repetive strain injuries) that are so common among manual wheelchair users.

Benefit to Company:
The SBIR/STTR Program has provided a tremendous benefit to our company. The Phase I and Phase II grants expedited the product development and testing of the SmartWheel – and in particular facilitated its transformation from a hard-wired non-commercial research tool to a wireless, user-friendly commercial clinical and research tool. The grants also allowed us to partner (via subcontracts) with leading experts (Dr. Rory A. Cooper and Dr. Michael Boninger at the University of Pittsburgh) insuring a high quality R & D effort. Finally, by expediting R & D, the SBIR/STTR program also accelerated the timeline of market entry, so the SmartWheel could get to the clinicians and researchers who need it most.

The SmartWheel was also Three Rivers’ first commercial product, introduced in the first half of 2002. Revenue from SmartWheel sales grew by 20% from 2002 to 2003 and will very likely double from 2003 to 2004. By 2006, we expect that cumulative SmartWheel sales will exceed $1 million.

How Product Was Commercialized:
The primary strategy used in the commercialization of the SmartWheel has been to direct initial sales efforts at “centers of influence” in both the clinical and research community. Direct sales efforts (e.g., in-services, demonstrations at professional conferences, and face-to-face educational efforts) have successfully penetrated these leading clinics and research institutions, and they, in turn, have provided and will continue to provide the most rigorous test of the SmartWheel. In addition, successful incorporation of the SmartWheel into the central mission of these “centers of influence” has helped and will help pave the way for sales throughout the research and clinical communities.

Past R&D and/or Sales from this Project:   $260,000
Estimated Future Annual R&D and/or Sales from this Project:   $500,000