Andrea Mocellin, Founder and Inventor of Revolve Air, and speaker for AccessibilityPlus 2021.
We are in the 2020 (or 2021, or in the past) and still, there is the bulky wheelchair with the same wheels, with the same frame that people can't bring on board of plane. And I was like, 'That’s not the future I picture.'
It was a lot of effort, I have to say. But like when you feel this intention and motivation, I think is the best thing just is to follow it.
Andrea Mocellin, Founder and Inventor of Revolve Air, is an experienced Senior Mobility Designer with a demonstrated history of working in the design industry.
Interview with Andrea Mocellin, Founder and Inventor of Revolve Air.
Transcript for Interview with Andrea Mocellin, Founder and Inventor of Revolve Air.
John Griffin: Hello again, thanks for joining us on this next session of Accessibility Matters. I'm John Griffin. I’m the publisher of accessibility.com. Today, we've got a very special person to speak with us. He's an internationally regarded and honored designer. I'll let him introduce himself in terms of what his title is and what he's doing. But one thing I would like to tell you about him before you see him. This man has done something that none of us probably ever thought we'd hear being real in our lifetimes. He has reinvented the wheel, not just any wheel, but a special wheel. Please, my friend, introduce yourself.
Andrea Mocellin: Thank you, John, for your introduction. I'm Andrea Mocellin, founder and inventor of Revolve Air, which is the wheelchair in the new form. I'm actually a mobility designer from background. So, always been involved in designing cars, working aviation, working for global OEMs and global startups. And always felt like how a mobility designer can be involved in improving peoples' life in making a product that can actually link public and private transportation, for example, cars, airplanes, trains, with the micro mobility. Because we are now nowadays is surrounded by a lot of possibilities to travel. But sometimes what is missing is the link between these possibilities.
That's why actually I start to improve what is the basics of the movement in the micro mobility, or in the macro mobility as well, which is the wheel for the land transportation, ground transportation. From the wheel, I started to deconstruct let’s say the geometry in the way to compact the wheel when it's not in use by 60% of its space, in the way that you can actually create a total new experience. Now you can park the vehicles, park your bicycle, store your wheel chair inside the vehicle. But firstly, there was the issue to solve this problem about how can you deconstruct the wheel.
From there, it invented Revolve wheel, which was the first project. I mean, I was involved as an entrepreneur. From there, the feedback I got from wheelchair user were amazing in the way that I pushed forward to deconstructed the frame of the wheelchair itself in the way to make the full package, means the 2 wheels plus the frame suitable as cabin luggage in the plane, something that is not yet possible. But more importantly, allowing them, the wheelchair user, to don’t need to check in the wheelchair before each flight, to don't need to drive large cars, but to pick the car they want as compact as possible, and just started with turn in the passenger seat while the 2 wheels collapse together with the backrest and the seat.
The feedback was even more amazing and positive than the wheel itself. And I'm running right now the development of the wheelchair. So, planning to reach the market mid of next year with a limited-edition wheelchair made out of great partners working on the project. And therefore there of course scaling it to larger numbers. But most importantly, it will be also the user to make the product scaling in a different way through the years. So, as it happened with the wheel, now it's happening with a wheelchair. And I'm really curious to see how this will take forward. So, I think still there is limitless in the potential that we can explore the field of accessibility through this product through this technology.
John Griffin: There's countless cases of disabled people using wheelchairs trying to get through the airline baggage mess. And everybody apologizes when the person on the plane is told, “Well, I'm sorry, we can't... your wheelchair’s come off and it’s destroyed.” So, now a disabled person is sitting in an airport, maybe trying to get to another flight, whatever. And their wheelchair... their transportation is ruined. And everybody's sorry, but that doesn't solve the problem. Which is the reason why so many of us take our luggage on the plane and put it in the overhead because it's necessary to the rest of our travel. Did you witness that? Was there some kind of an event at some point where you looked at a person in an airport and said, “Oh my god, that shouldn't ever happen,”? Or did you hear about it? I mean, you made a decision to empathize with a need that you didn't necessarily have. Was there an event that triggered that for you?
Andrea Mocellin: Actually, there was. In general, I’ve always been obsessed by traveling. And what I mean by traveling, traveling without anything. So, like having empty hands let’s say when I'm traveling. I hate to have bulky suitcases and a lot of bags. I like just a feeling that the freedom is when you don't need to worry about what you're bringing with you, and you can enjoy the journey. Otherwise, you are always stressed and overwhelmed about how many things we have to check in and be careful of. And when I was traveling, by train, or by cars, by my car, and by airplanes, I was always seeing as well in the airport, for example, that the wheelchair spare all around the terminals without any order. And I was thinking, “Well, we are in the 2020 (or 2021, or in the past) and still, there is the bulky wheelchair with the same wheels, with the same frame that people can't bring on board of plane.” And I was like, “That’s not the future I picture.”
And there's like I thought, “So, basically, if I’m a wheelchair user, I can't travel light. I can't jump in the plane. And I don't want to be worried that something gets damaged, the same if I driving a car. Everyone is in a rush. Why do I need to spend so much time to load and unload the wheelchair in the car, or asking for someone to do so?” So, the idea was like, “How can I use my skills that I gained through the industry to actually shape this product that doesn't exist?” Of course, it’s a big challenge. It was a lot of effort, I had to say. But like when you feel this intention and motivation, I think is the best thing just is to follow it. Just because I'm so obsessed to make the journey as seamless as possible, because everyone deserves that, I have to say.
So, as we do it, everyone has to do it, there is no doubt in any skill. And as mentioned before, all the industries so focused to do faster product, more comfortable products, but never really thinking about what is in between. So, there is a huge potential there to improve the journeys.
John Griffin: Right now, it's a mechanical fold up.
Andrea Mocellin: Yeah.
John Griffin: It’s strictly mechanical. But there's also a market out there for motorized wheelchairs. That would encompass battery technology that could potentially be fairly heavy, small motor and so on. Is that something that's next? Is that something you're working on now?
Andrea Mocellin: Absolutely. I mean, when I speak about Revolve as a brand, I have to say is open up to everything that is going to be inclusion and accessibility in different ways. So, now it's a manual wheelchair because all our effort is to make the best foldable, lightweight, portable wheelchair. But in terms of vision in long-term, or not... mid-term, it's also to deliver product that follow the good technology, of course. The problem now where you're traveling that the battery are still quite not dangerous, but every. Sometimes you can’t bring it on board on the cabin of a plane for security.
So, as we are like... I like to say we are a hardware and analogic company, technology company. We are in discussion with other startups as well. Innovative startups that work, not only with batteries, but also with sensor readers to detect obstacles to make the wheelchair even more smarter. So, in terms of evolution of the product, as mentioned before, it's kind of limitless because you can add smart technology that will improve even more the travel experience to be almost like to say autonomous in the way its folding, unfolding and traveling and moving. As you mentioned, engines and batteries get smaller and smaller. And for us, it’s only an advantage because we can put [inaudible] we are having through mechanics and analogic systems to something that is going to be even more futuristic one day than what we could even imagine. So, there is a lot of potential there as well, of course.
John Griffin: The product itself, how much is it...? What are you shooting at as a total weight for an average size?
Andrea Mocellin: The target, actually, the wheelchair will be less than 10 kilos. Through the background we have with partners working in Formula One, there is the potential to achieve this weight because they are the master, a world-class master in making things lighter. And working with them is absolutely crucial, but also like inspiring, because we can take a simple surface that you do that weighed 5 kilos, they can make it weigh 2 kilos. You never know how, but they manage to do so. So, of course using materials and engineering processes, they are really the best partner you can find. Also, Francesco, which is involved as a CTO in Revolve is actually able to create this kind of great technology on the service of important product that can improve life.
So, I think that the weight is extremely important, not only for when you use the wheelchair, but also when you load in the car for the weight, for the stress that you're going to have in the back by folding and unfolding. So, for us, it's crucial, of course, to have something that is extremely portable.
John Griffin: It's a great innovation. I don't know how well you take accolades, but you really deserve a tremendous, tremendous hand for seeing this, working at it, and making it come true. You're the man that has reinvented the wheel.
Andrea Mocellin: Thanks, John, for that. I think it's really interesting to hear feedback from diverse backgrounds, diverse industries, experts, and everyone. I think for the first time since I involved in projects regarding technology, there is a sense of community as well. I think like all the user that would like to purchase and test the wheelchair, they’re collaborative. Things that I didn't really face so much in other industries, because there is more this competition acting in the wheelchair industry, what I believe. Not in the wheelchair industry, but in the accessibility world, when I see that people just want to really have better product to have a better life. This means the collaboration level is higher. So, you actually can go faster in creating a better product because your competitor doesn't want to take you down but wants to grow together with you. And I think this thing is kind of unique on the way to work on this project.
John Griffin: It's unique to this business. I am a lifelong publisher. And while I've been aware throughout my life of the need for accessibility to the disabled, it never really hit home for me until I had a person in my family that was born and became autistic. And my grandmother used to tell me that, “You never know how things feel until the hammer hits your thumb.” And so, I was drawn to this project. Now, I've had a career, multiple decades in big business and publishing and advertising and marketing and so on and so forth. So, for me, the huge discovery was finding what I lovingly call the tribe of people like yourself and Gavin and Michael and most of the people that will be on the roster in our 3 days here, who didn't get into the business, didn't get into accessibility mattering necessarily for riches and money. They got in it because they felt a need to do something about inequality in an inaccessible world but still exists. That's unique as you allude to too. When you're floating around in other businesses, everything is like, “Who's going to get to the money first?” Well, in this business, that's not the way it is. It's really resolved as to, “Who's going to get to the solution first?” It's a changing world. And the emphasis now is beginning to really build underneath, making all design accessible. In the systems and the assistive technology business, I mean, so much of the prescription is being written into the beginnings of the development of a product or a solution or a system or technology as opposed to going back. If it had been possible, the wheelchair was a wonderful invention at its day. It was a long time ago, and it hasn't changed. It's kind of like I used to tell people, “Well, the difference between print and online is one is the technology of Guttenberg, and the other one is a technology and Zuckerberg. They're very different.” You can't change the game in 100 years, you can never progress.
Andrea Mocellin: Yeah.
John Griffin: So, I think your instinct on that is an absolutely correct, that it's a different business. And it's obviously one you're very comfortable in.
Andrea Mocellin: Yeah, absolutely. I think like, as you mentioned, is a totally different business than if you work in the car industry or in software, digital. The fact that also you work with the hardware, as you mentioned, like the wheelchair didn't change in 100 years for the fact that it's actually an extremely complex product. Always looks simple, but it's not actually, because there is a lot of weight that has to support, safety, stability, a lot of characters that people underestimate. And always have the feeling that more the product looks simple, more it’s actually complex to do it. Like, there's always this tricky game in the development of some product.
And what stay timeless normally is something that always looks simple and always look really good in the eye of the user. Doesn't look like an enemy, but looks like a friend. And then you get almost a touch now emotionally, because you get memories on it. You feel like it's part of your daily life. It's a bit like when you drive a nice car, you like it. When you get out from the car, you walk back, you always turn my head to check the car for the last time. Because you create this relationship with the product as well. And I'm more like in this side, so in the emotional side of the product. And I think like, with a wheelchair, you can do to the next level, because I like to call it almost wearable mobility because you wear it, right, the wheelchair almost.
John Griffin: Yeah.
Andrea Mocellin: And then so you create this kind of incorporation between man and machine, I like to say, that is underestimated by people designing it, I think. Also, the emotion that you can get by folding or unfolding the product. Because many people ask me, “Why you didn't do it maybe in this way or in another way?” and I was like, “Well, when I tried to do it do it, I always thinking about how naturally can you do some action, like folding or un folding, how you can work by your instinct, rather than doing something that is maybe take shorter time to develop, but doesn't give you the same emotion or feedback.” If you have to do 20 times per day, I want that even after 20 time feels magical or unique, rather than doing 20 times like you are doing something almost work, like something that take effort, or not effort, but it doesn't give you anything back.
So, when I tried to design things, I always tried to create this connection between doing something that is worth it and you enjoying it, rather than doing stuff in that just because you have to do it or you need to do it.
John Griffin: Yeah. Well, the truth of the matter is that accessibility is the turning house between discovery, innovation, any solution, anything that is part of service to the lives of persons that have special needs or are disabled. If it's not accessible, it's the progress stops entirely. So, anything that you can nominate in terms of science, discovery, support, if it's not accessible, it's useless to the intended user. So, solving for that on the front side, rather than 100 years later, it's great that it's here. We wish it could have been here 100 years ago. But as you suggest, the Formula One knowledge and skill sets that got embedded into this product make it lightweight and durable and strong and things that it could not have been back in the Iron Age. It's an advanced technology. It's a composition of the assets that nature provides in natural materials. But it takes vision, and it takes brains. And it takes determination like you brought to this. I want to congratulate you on that and say to our readers, this is why accessibility matters. This is why you will see people in the future getting on airplanes with you and going into their seats and folding up their luggage, which was their wheelchair, and putting it above their heads. And remember that this man was man that made that possible. Thank you, Andrea.
Andrea Mocellin: Thank you, John. Also, a great conversation. Really enjoyed I actually.