This year’s Australian James Dyson Award winner has been announced and as usual it too an out of the box idea to win. Ryan Tilley looked at how wheelchair users can go off-road basically. Be it the beach, or the myriad of natural wonders Australia has to offer.

I thought why not give this man the attention he has deserves. So I asked him a little about himself and the how the winning idea called the Gecko Traxx came about,

First of all tell our readers about Ryan Tilley?

I’m 23 years old from Melbourne and I’m an Industrial Design and Mechanical Engineer. I love all things active and outdoors, particularly mountain-biking! My focus is on enabling people with limited mobility to be active and to access the great outdoors just like I love to do.

I previously worked in a local design studio here in Melbourne, called Design + Industry.  However, now, I am working full-time of bringing Gecko Traxx to the market as has been a massive demand for the product.

Photo: Daniel Pockett

What gave you the motivation to invent this particular product?

After spending three days in a wheelchair navigating the streets of Singapore, it blew my mind about how hard it could be as a wheelchair user, and I realised that I needed to be using my skills in mechanical engineering and industrial design to make a change.

Gecko Traxx was born was when my mate, Huy Nguyen, who is a wheelchair user wasn’t able to get down onto the beach with the rest of us. Why did he have to be excluded and left just watching the fun from a distance on the concrete path? The more I looked into it, I realised that simply getting into the great outdoors and into nature – something that I am blessed to be able to do and love – is extremely challenging for people with limited mobility. Society is beginning to do more and more about increasing accessibility, however, this often means changing the environment to suit. When you’re in natural environments, you don’t always want to have a concrete path under you, it defeats the purpose! 

We are focused on enabling the person rather than changing the environment to suit. 

What hurdles or stumbling blocks did you encounter along the way?

Creating hardware is challenging, but creating a brand new product using a brand new process makes it even harder. The biggest challenge we’ve encountered is finalising the manufacturing process and finding the right manufacturing partner that can push the boundaries slightly and achieve what we require.

Another hurdle is of course, money, and how to fund the design and development. However, the benefit of this is that it’s pushed us to be even more creative and has helped to get us to where we are now. There is always a way to make something happen, so don’t give up.

Photo: Daniel Pockett

Describe the feeling the first time you saw someone use this. The freedom they experienced must have been very emotional yet gratifying for you?

Seeing someone use Gecko Traxx and freely maneuver around the beach for the first time in years made this whole process worthwhile. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences to see the joy on their face as they can get right down to the waterline! No longer do they have to be left at the edge of the concrete path, but they can now be part of the fun with friends and family.

What have users of the Gecko Traxx actually said about the product?

Everyone we’ve spoken to has praised Gecko Traxx and says that it provides a sense of freedom and liberation. An Australian wheelchair Rugby paralympic exclaimed “oh you guys are onto something here!” when he first experienced Gecko Traxx in action.

Other users have said the following:

  • “This is helping my number 1 goal of being independent.”
  • “I was actually able to join in with our friends and family on the beach on our recent holiday, and not feel like a burden.”

What are the next steps, do you intend on focusing on this area or are you an all round ideas man?

This is just the beginning for us. Gecko Traxx is the first product of what will be a whole range of Outdoor Assistive Technology products.

Current companies and brands in this industry are very medical and sterile and do not convey the fun we want users to experience. The future for us is the creation of a fun, adventurous outdoor brand which creates awesome assistive technology products enabling wheelchair users and people with limited mobility to access and enjoy the great outdoors.

However, we are talking about using Gecko Traxx in a recreational context here in Australia and in developed countries. The long-term goal is to make Gecko Traxx available where it is needed the most – in developing countries, like Cambodia or Vietnam where everyday mobility is extremely challenging.

Photo: Daniel Pockett

What does winning this award mean to you personally. How will it change your life? 

James Dyson – and Dyson as a company – has always been a huge inspiration for me. To me they incorporate both the engineering and design aspects so well. Every product category they have entered they have disrupted (in a good way!) and challenged the status quo, always pushing the boundaries of design and engineering. Developing products that both look amazing and have superior functionality. This is exactly what I am trying to do in the Assistive Technology area – create products for people with a disability that not only has a superior functionality, but looks and feels awesome.

The opportunity to enter the James Dyson Award has been amazing and now, to be recognised as the national winner is a huge honor and is definitely one of the biggest highlights of my career so far! I am super stoked.

For Gecko Traxx, we can use the global recognition of the James Dyson Award to create awareness of our brand and enable wheelchair users all around the world, especially in developing countries to be more mobile and overcome environments which are traditionally a barrier. 

Commercially has there been any interest?

We have had so much interest from wheelchair users, occupational therapists and even wheelchair retailers. We recently exhibited Gecko Traxx at a large trade expo and we had retailers approaching us wanting to retail Gecko Traxx – which was really exciting. So yes, there has been lots of commercial interest and we’re now in the process of finalising the manufacturing to make Gecko Traxx commercially available in the coming months.

There were two national runners up, both from the University of New South Wales. Alexander Ghent and Frederique Sunstrum who came up with these ideas!

  • Eddy – a retrofittable filter system for washing-machines, designed to stop microplastic pollution from synthetic clothes from reaching the ocean.
  • Continuity –  challenges the current issues of invasive diabetic devices by taking advantage of the newest technology to monitor glucose levels and deliver insulin ‘non-invasively’.