Supplier Spotlight: YPush the boundaries of mobility innovation
Five years in development and designed from the ground up, the Ypush Carer Controller Hybrid Wheelchair was the invention of Guernsey-based engineer Brian Harrison. He saw a gap in the market for an ultra-portable chair with power drive, steering and a compact lightweight robust construction that would transform the lives of both the occupant and the attendant. THIIS caught up with Brian Harrison, CEO of Ypush, to discuss his innovative chair and his plans for the future…
With a background in mechanical engineering and building high revving competition racing car engines, Brian Harrison is certainly targeting an altogether different market with the Ypush.
“The speed element is somewhat different,” he laughs. “But the attention to detail is pretty similar!”
Brian recalls that he was in England on business, staying in Poole Quay, when his initial idea for the Ypush came about.
“I spotted an elderly lady struggling along the seafront, using a three-wheeled walker to help support herself,” he says. “She had her shopping bags draped all over the handles as she moved along slowly.
“I noticed that she took a few steps forward but then she kept stopping and looking back over her shoulder. This happened again and again as she continued her journey along the quayside and it looked as if she was concerned that she might not have enough energy to get back to her starting point.
“Then it struck me. Wouldn’t it be amazing to design a manual walker that would encourage people to continue walking? If they got too tired, they could convert it into a powered scooter and whizz off home.
“I remember getting home and feeling really excited about the possibilities of specialised lightweight motors for mobility products.”
A gap in the market
Shortly afterwards, Brian noticed that although there are hundreds of thousands of people in the UK alone using a standard type of manual transit chair, he very rarely saw any of them out and about. Where were they?
Brian says that his focus turned to the carer and the issues they face every day, struggling to pull and push people around in manual wheelchairs. On researching it further, Brian discovered that a large percentage of people who push manual wheelchairs suffer from fatigue and injury. In many cases, it is just too physically demanding for either the carer or the occupant to even consider going out and about, he says.
“Throw in a slope or a tricky surface and it’s pretty much impossible, and easier to stay at home,” points out Brian. “Committing to developing a solution to this problem kick-started what became a seven-year project, leading to the Ypush.”
A design challenge
Finding the right combination of manual and powered was by far the biggest challenge for Brian and the key element he wanted to achieve.
“We knew that we had to design an all-new, lightweight, powerful motor drive and control system, but where the driven wheels could also freewheel to allow manual pushing, yet provide seamless power at any time, or a combination of both, without stopping or even changing any settings.”
Although at the time this seemed a reasonable and quite a simple proposition, hindsight teaches you that things can be far more complicated and expensive than you ever imagine, explains Brian.
“I remember getting home and feeling really excited about the possibilities” Brian Harrison
Between 2013 and 2018, Brian and his team threw themselves into researching, designing, building and testing dozens of different types of prototype motors and many different control systems, occasionally making a small step forward.
“We had numerous ‘Dragons’ Den’-style meetings to raise funds from private investors to fund the project and to help us continue to build relationships in many countries for the development, supply and assembly of parts.
“I made many regular visits over the years to our Operations Director Patrick Tam in Hong Kong, to visit our suppliers and partners in the Far East who luckily shared the same passion and enthusiasm as we did.”
Finally, it felt like Brian and his team were starting to make some progress…
From the ground up
Perhaps 90 per cent of the mainstream mobility products currently out in the market, says Brian, use a standardised, off-the-shelf type of motor and gearbox, along with a certified motor controller, battery, charger, and brake systems.
“They are built in their tens of thousands, so are generally available as a package quite cheaply along with the certification. You just bolt them on to a newly designed chassis and ‘hey presto’,” he says.
This makes things far simpler – and certainly more sensible – when designing a new wheelchair or scooter product.
“There are also so many other off-the-shelf parts available, but none of that would suit our purpose,” Brian continues. “Because we were designing every element from the ground up, apart from the nuts and bolts, including the chassis, and being a Class 1 medical product, Richard Rudd, our compliance officer, insisted that while it is possible to do a certain amount of ‘self-certification,’ we should aim for the very highest industry standards, using TUV Germany and other world-class testing laboratories.”
A steadfast belief
In ensuring that the Ypush passed the strict supply guidelines of potential customers, such as the NHS, Brian explained that he and his team went through a time-consuming process where every single part of the Ypush – every material and mechanism – was rigorously examined, tested and certified in an accredited laboratory.
Brian recalls: “With all the parts on the Ypush bespoke, even down to the special tyres, Richard took us into a whole new world of micro-detail you just didn’t know existed!”
The biggest worry about the project though was the unknown, unforeseen, spiralling costs.
“You can believe that there is a solution, but until you find one you have to keep testing, improving and hoping, as there are no guarantees,” he explains.
“You can sell an idea to people but eventually time can start running out. You need to get results before the money runs out.
“I always say to my children, Oliver and Darcie, that development is like a mixture of belief and a search for the truth.”
Fortunately, the investors continued to be incredibly supportive and patient, staying committed to what Brian and his team were looking to achieve.
Brian continues: “By 2018, we had finally finished the design and testing of the three most complex features of the Ypush – the Advanced Dual Drive System, the Brintal ‘’Hands off’’ Safety Brakes, and the Electronic Anti-tip system.
The results of five years of constant work had been realised, an incredibly rewarding moment, recounts Brian.
“We were so excited and relieved, particularly to have finally completed the dual-drive system,” he says.
“It’s incredible to think back now and I’m so proud of everyone involved.”
Just after Brian and his team built the first complete test Ypush, local Guernsey couple Tony and Sue Mollet heard about it.
“Tony called me to tell me they were really keen to see it and offered to help ‘lifetime’ test it for us,” says Brian.
Sue has MS and Tony had struggled to take her out and about – the couple hadn’t been into town for a long time.
“To see their faces when they saw the Ypush demonstrated for the first time is something I will never forget,” recalls Brian.
“It was a real pivotal moment for the project as they took it off in the boot of their car to start testing – hopefully a real solution to some difficult issues they faced.
“Tony is a real character and determined to not only go to all the places they couldn’t before but to test the Ypush to the limit, to try and break it while coming up with more and more extreme tests.
“Sue finds open water swimming is helpful for her condition so Tony often takes her down the beach in the Ypush, right to the water’s edge!
“I wouldn’t recommend that to our customers, but all in a day’s extreme lifetime testing for Tony and Sue.”
The Ypush really had changed the lives of Tony and Sue and Brian has included a video about the couple’s adventurous story on the Ypush website.
An unexpected passing
In August 2018, Brian had another visit to Patrick in Hong Kong to visit some suppliers and partners.
“At the end of the visit, Patrick took me to Hong Kong Airport as he always did and waved me off from departures,” he said.
“On arrival back in Guernsey, I tried to contact him to let him know I was safely back home. But I found out that suddenly, and unexpectedly, the night after I left, that Patrick had passed away.
“It was such an incredible blow, I was devastated,” says Brian. “He was such a kind and good friend and I had seen him only the day before at Hong Kong Airport.
“We could never have started the project without him. He had introduced me to many people and we didn’t think we could ever recover, as Patrick had been involved in every part of the project. We thought it was all over.”
It took a few months for Brian to try to piece everything back together, as a good deal of the project’s supplier and factory management ended with Patrick. He and his team, however, were determined to push on, as Patrick would have wanted them to.
“I remember one of the last things he said to me before I left to come home. He said: “Brian, no-one would understand the difficulties we have been through.” He was a good man and a good friend and he will never be forgotten,” reflects Brian.
By early 2019, Brian and his team were back on track. One of the outstanding moments of that year, he recounts, was during compliance testing in Germany when TUV commented that they ‘’loved the Ypush’’ and were impressed by its ‘’incredibly safe brakes.’’ It was high praise indeed and a big relief for all.
“Development is like a mixture of belief and a search for the truth” Brian Harrison
A new category of product also had to be created, as the Ypush did not fit into any current category. It was officially confirmed as falling into the category of ‘power-assisted wheelchair’ (‘PAWC). Brian and the team really felt that they had something new, exciting, and different on their hands.
Pushing the Ypush
Brian recalls first introducing the Ypush to the industry at Rehacare 2019 in Germany. “We wanted to get feedback from potential customers and came away with a lot of good advice and contacts,” says Brian. A well-known manufacturer was very keen to assemble the Ypush and this kick-started an exciting new relationship. Soon, the whole process turned towards mass production.
The initial user feedback that Brian received from carers and users about the Ypush was helpful, he says, and led to his team making lots of small but important changes to the model.
“It is a product that works across a broad range of needs” Brian Harrison
For instance, Brian recalls that they conducted a trial in a care home and noticed that, while in reverse, there was a constant beeping warning that needed to be altered.
“It seemed a sensible idea and follows CE suggestions, however, in real life, when you are manoeuvring someone around a bedroom in the middle of the night, waking up the other residents is not such a good idea. Now there are just three small initial beeps to warn the carer.”
It’s little elements like that which are really helpful to know before production, says Brian.
Dealers and distribution
Ypush has distributors ready and organised in a number of countries, including the biggest supplier of wheelchairs in the USA, he explains.
“We are starting to talk to suitable retailers in the UK at the moment, although, of course, Covid is having a big effect on everything. At the moment, we are laying the foundations in place by preparing and supporting our dealers.”
Brian explains that a ‘dealer plan’ has been drafted to introduce the product to potential partners, as one-on-one visits are not possible at the moment. The plan has full details for retailers about Ypush support, along with all dealers being listed on the Ypush website.
Brian adds: “We will work together to promote the product. There is also the possibility of granting specific territories to successful dealers.”
The RRP for the Ypush in the UK is £2,750 and Brian explains that the company will be manufacturing between 500-1000 units during 2021, which is flexible depending on the demand.
“We are very fortunate to have a new product in a new product category with no direct competition,” comments Brian. “But really we need to get out of the pandemic and be back to normal to be able to look far ahead.
“It seems that once we are through the worst, people are generally looking to be more active and healthy, spending more time together, so any product that can assist with this will be really helpful.”
The business is looking to supply UK retailers directly. Smaller, enthusiastic retailers would be perfect for the Ypush, Brian explains.
“With a new category product like the Ypush, it takes passion, time and enthusiasm to explain exactly how it functions and who it is actually for. Otherwise, because it’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, potential customers might think it’s just another powerchair. It’s not. It’s about understanding that although the user benefits greatly, the Ypush is aimed very much at helping the carer. The carers are the target market, as it will most likely be them, a family member or a friend that actually makes the purchase. It’s a bit unusual.”
A comprehensive ‘sales kit’ will be sent out to dealers, Brian explains. This consists of all the sales and point-of-sale components needed to get selling in-store. It includes the Ypush, powerpack, charger, travel roller bag, branded sales podium, pop-up banner and media video screen.
Brian says that the Ypush will be appearing in the future at Naidex and similar exhibitions, either on its own or with dealers. The product will also be promoted on social media. Brand guides and artwork will be available to dealers, he states, enabling them to create their own advertising about the Ypush.
The Ypush has already had a soft launch in Guernsey, where it has been lucky to have only had a few Covid cases, explains Brian.
“It’s the only place we have been able to start actively pre-selling the Ypush. We only have a small population of 60,000 and we have sold well over 30 units in a short space of time.”
Units were purchased by a variety of customers, including care homes, OT services, the Alzheimer’s Support Group, Mental Health Support and many private customers.
“To see their faces when they saw the Ypush demonstrated for the first time…” Brian Harrison
Brian says that he feels optimistic for sales in the UK, as it has 1,000 times more people than Guernsey and the Ypush has been well received so far.
“It’s great because it is a product that works across a broad range of needs,” he says.
The first production of the Ypush is expected to be in the UK in April 2021.
No challenge too great
This year is all about starting to get Ypush out there to dealers and customers, and generally creating awareness of the product, in spite of the current world order, details Brian.
With the Covid pandemic creating an ever-changing situation, Brian accepts that he may have to adapt accordingly. The current travel restrictions makes business and introductions more complicated and expensive but he and the team are looking forward to seeing people out and about, once it all passes.
Another challenge is, of course, Brexit and the biggest shipping crisis in 40 years. “Did I mention that a 20-foot container shipping price to the UK has gone up from US$1,250 to over US$8,000? It’s just crazy times!” he balks.
With regards to Brian’s future plans for the Ypush, he says that the company is constantly looking at improvements and adding other products.
“There has been a lot of interest in the ADDS technology we have developed so we are also looking forward to collaborative projects with other companies.”
The priority first, however, is the Ypush, and just “seeing carers out and about, enjoying effortless, fun-filled days out.”
Ypush – Key features…
A few things set the Ypush apart from its competitors, claims Brian Harrison…
The Ypush is the world’s only seamless push or power wheelchair, specifically designed for the carer, says Brian. “It is not a powerchair with an attendant joystick and it does not require a separate bolt-on powerpack.”
There are three key features and functions that make this possible, he explains:
1. The way you can push it along manually with no resistance on the wheel-motors and call on power at any time. “No other mobility product does that,” he maintains.
2. When moving along, either pushing or under power, if the carer slips or trips over, the brakes come on to bring the Ypush to a safe stop. The brakes are powerful, safe, and designed specifically for the Ypush.
3. The Ypush has an electronic ‘anti-tip’ system, which will cut out the power to the motors if both the front wheels leave the ground. Says Brian: “This is a totally new design which also incorporates an occupant sensor so that the power will not operate unless there is weight in the seat.”