A Look at the Revolve Air Foldable Wheelchair

Published: Dec 03, 2023

A new accessible invention came across my desk a couple of months ago. This time it’s the Revolve Air travel wheelchair. This wheelchair claims to make air travel easier for active (read: manual, self-propelled) wheelchair users. It does this by folding into a size small enough to fit in the overhead bin of an airplane. This includes both the frame and wheels:  An animated gif showing the wheels and frame folding into a small frame

On the surface, this looks incredibly innovative — a wheelchair that’s compact enough to come on the plane with you could (theoretically) mean faster boarding and less risk of the airlines damaging your chair. It’s that last point that the Revolve website used to emphasize back in 2021. When you clicked on the “Why Revolve Air” button on their site, instead of giving you information about the product, it simply linked to a Usa Today article discussing how often airlines damage wheelchairs.

A screenshot of the Revolve website from 2021 showing the ’Why Revolve Air?’ Button

A lot has changed about the Revolve Air since it was first announced, but before we dive into the history of the product, we need to first look into the history of the company that makes it.

The History of Revolve Mobility

According to their LinkedIn, Revolve Mobility was founded in 2021 and uses

quote:

...advanced approaches to design, develop and commercialise micro-mobility devices in entirely new ways, starting from Revolve Air — the world’s first active wheelchair that fits the universal cabin luggage size standards.

end quote

In reality, Revolve Mobility is the next incarnation of the Revolve Wheel, a foldable, modular wheel that aims to

quote:

...be the first modular wheel. Which in turn will open new frontiers for the present and future of foldable vehicles.

end quote
https://vimeo.com/249415276

The earliest reference to the revolve wheel I can find is in this video. Best I can tell, the Revolve wheel was rebranded from a stand-alone product in 2017 to a specific feature of the Revolve Air folding wheelchair in 2021.

The History of the Revolve Air Wheelchair

The revolve wheelchair seems to have gone through two major iterations since it was originally announced.

2021: A Service No One Needs

Originally, Revolve Air was meant be rented at airports.

quote:

REVOLVE AIR aims to develop a unique and revolutionary rental space to improve the wheelchair service in international and national airports all around the world, and offering Revolve Air on a rental basis, making trips flow much smoother.

end quote
https://vimeo.com/502291454

You can get a better look at the chair itself and how it folds here in this video.

Speaking of videos, you’re gonna see a lot of them in this article. I usually try to avoid using them (they’re not very accessible), but most of the information I can find about this wheelchair comes from the marketing videos.

There’s a lot of problems with this wheelchair-as-a-service approach. For starters, sitting in the chair makes it look like you’re wearing a giant, blue and white diaper.

A man sits in the revolve air wheelchair while waiting for a train. The back of the blue-and-white-wheelchair he’s sititng in barely covers his lower back.

And that footrest is giving "Batgirl 2022 vibes"

A screenshot from a DC comic featuring Bat Girl in a manual wheelchair whose footrest is so small it is invisible.

I couldn’t imagine navigating an international airport in this thing, much less a busy urban area. It looks like a transport wheelchair for someone you hate. And if you’re wondering what poor, disabled soul they got to model it, don’t worry! They didn’t! That’s the chair’s creator, Andrea Mocellin.

Wheelchairs are incredibly personal (and highly personalized) for the person using it. In order for the chair to fit in the overhead bin of an airline (and the weird storage port thing in the video), it would need to have fixed dimensions and not be adjustable. With the Revolve Air, the idea being sold here is that you, an active wheelchair user, would leave your custom, medically-prescribed wheelchair at home and instead rent a wheelchair with no cushion, minimal footrest, and almost no back support — to navigate trains, buses, and the notoriously uneven streets of a major city. Just look at this thing: An animated gif showing the 2021 prototype’s wheels and frame folding into a small frame

2023: A Cancelled Kickstarter

Fast forward to 2023 and the Revolve Air has now gone through one, possibly two redesigns. I say possibly two because I can’t tell if the model shown here is just a different color or a completely different version from the model shown on the site today:

In September of this year, there was a (now cancelled) Kickstarter campaign with a target goal of $10,000. $10,000 is way too low of goal for a product this complex. Given the suggested retail price of $7,500, there’s no way they thought this would be enough money to start manufacturing and the reward tiers reflect this. Starting at just over five grand USD, you can purchase the chair at a 33% discount. If that’s too steep for you, you can send them money via their reservation page (a link to which is only made available after you sign up for their newsletter). There, you get access to the same $2,500 Early Bird discount for the low, low price of $49.

Despite the success of the campaign (they raised over forty grand), Revolve mobility decided to cancel the Kickstarter:

quote:

We want to express our gratitude to each and every one of you who supported our limited edition series of the Revolve Air wheelchair during this Kickstarter campaign. Your belief in our product and mission has meant the world to us.

While the response and enthusiasm for Revolve Air have been truly inspiring, we’ve decided to close this campaign and explore different avenues to offer our product to the world. We’re committed to bringing the Revolve Air wheelchair to life, and this decision will allow us to do so in the best way possible.

We appreciate your support, patience, and understanding as we work towards our goal of making air travel more accessible and inclusive for all. We’ll keep you updated on our journey and the next steps, and we hope you’ll continue to be a part of our community.

Thank you once again for joining us in this mission. Together, we will create a more inclusive world of travel.

end quote

To me, this a long-winded way of saying “this thing is way more expensive to manufacture than we thought and we have no idea how we’re going to get it to market.”

Here’s a breakdown of the whole campaign:

  • The chair will retail for $7,500 USD
  • You can get a the chair for 33% off by donating €4,681 to the kickstarter (Super Early Bird Discount)
  • You can get a the chair for 27% off by donating €5,125 to the kickstarter (Early Bird Discount)
  • 7 people donated for the Super Early Bird Discount
  • 1 person donated for the Early Bird Discount
  • 24 additional donors gave an average of $48.71
  • The original fundraising goal was roughly $10,000
  • The campaign raised $42,827 before being cancelled
  • You can still donate $49 dollars to them via their website to receive the Super Early Bird Discount

Based on the wording of the donation page, donating the $49 was meant to give you access to the then-upcoming Kickstarter campaign. But the fact that the campaign is cancelled and the donation page is still active, leaves me with no idea what the money from the donation page is actually going towards. No additional information about the product’s status has been posted to the company's LinkedIn, or Kickstarter since end of the campaign.

Revolve Air Stats and Specifications

Unlike other wheelchair reviews I’ve done, I don’t have a detailed user manual or production specification sheet to go over. So I can’t tell you about any warnings or limitations of the chair from the manufacturer. The best I have is this list of specs from the Revolve Air website:

  • Weight Limit: 100 kg (220 lb)
  • Wheel Weight: 3.8 kg (8.4 lb) per wheel
  • Chair Weight: 7 kg (15 lb)
  • Locking Pin Size: 1/2 inch
  • Size: Available with starting seat widths of 40 cm (15.75 inches) and above.

Putting the weight limit aside (way too low for a wheelchair of any size), the weight of the chair itself is 32 pounds! They fully expect you to roll onto an airplane with this thing and have a flight crew member chuck it into an overhead bin. That’s fucking insane! Each wheel alone weighs over 8 pounds!

As for the size of the chair itself, the starting width is nearly 16 inches. That’s massive. I know a lot of paraplegics that easily fit in a 12 or 13 inch frame. I would also assume that any increase in the width of the seat means an increase in the final folded width of the chair itself. The chair is described as folding down to 55cm by 35cm by 25cm (21.65in by 13.75in by 9.84in) and airlines generally limit carry on to 22in by x 14in by 9in, any increase in the dimensions of the chair is going to mean it no longer qualifies as carry on luggage, thus defeating its entire purpose.

What I Think is Really Going on

Given the sudden cancellation of the kickstarter, the lack of communication to backers, the flashy but uninformative promotional videos, and the wildly limiting specifications, the Revolve Air project feels at best disingenuous and at worst predatory. I don’t think Revolve Mobility (and by extension Andrea Mocellin, the founder) actually wants to make wheelchair users safer or more independent when traveling. I think they’re looking to pass off an invention nobody’s interested in (the original Revolve wheel) onto a market that investors don’t care about (wheelchair users) and hoping to make a quick buck in the process.

I know that sounds harsh, especially given Mocellin’s stated motivations for making the chair:

quote:

I didn’t have any background in the wheelchair market, but I wanted to design something to improve people’s life.

end quote
Andrea Mocellin

But if Mocellin was truly interested in helping disabled people, he would understand that there is no “market” for wheelchair users. Just like there’s no “market” for insulin or cancer drugs. People need what they need, and no amount of supply-and-demand economics is going to change that. The only time demand for a medical device or drug drops is when the people who need it the most die.

Mocellin knows why travel is so difficult for wheelchar users — airlines are constantly damaging wheelchairs, leaving users stranded and on the hook for expensive repairs. A fact he referenced on his company‘s website back in 2021. But instead of trying to solve the wider issue for everyone, he took disabled people's dream of safer air travel, re-packaged it into a novelty wheelchair, and tried to sell it back to us for $7,500 a piece.

Image Credits

  • Videos: Andrea Mocellin | REVOLVE
  • Header Image: Revolve Mobility
  • Wheelchair Folding Animations: Revolve Mobility
  • Batgirl Comic Image: DC Comics
  • Website Screenshots: Revolve Mobility