Sam Pearce has worked on a lot of inventions, from non-invasive surgery devices to early handheld computers. His most recent invention is a classic-- the wheel.
It started when Pearce was at the airport waiting on a flight. He saw a woman with a stroller hit a curb. Her baby went flying forward. Pearce knew that strollers already had shock absorbers under the seat. This helps reduces bouncing, but if the wheels hit a curb straight on, they’re still going to bounce backward. So Pearce came up with an idea-- why not put the shock absorbers into the wheels themselves?
Unfortunately, he couldn’t figure out how to make his idea work, so he moved on.
But a couple years later, he came back to the idea and built the first prototype. He took rubber piping and looped it inside a plywood wheel. It wasn’t great, but it convinced him he was onto something. Next, Pearce enlisted the help of a local archery shop. He figured bows and wheels both need to be strong, but also flexible.
Pearce and the bow-makers tried over 70 different recipes until they figured out the right one-- a carbon composite construction.
And thus, Loopwheels were born. Instead of spokes, there are shock-absorbing loops within the wheels. They’ve become a hit among both wheelchair users and cyclists, providing a much smoother ride than traditional spoke wheels. In 2013, Loopwheels were shortlisted for the London Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.
Since the success of Loopwheels, Pearce has focused on improving the manufacturing technique to decrease costs. Loopwheels started at about $2,000 per wheel, are now only a few hundred dollars, and in the future will hopefully be even less.