LINCOLN (AP) — Brice Crawford, who grew up on a farm near O’Neill, watched relatives with limited mobility struggle to get around the rough terrain.
Crawford’s grandfather lost a leg to a landmine in World War II and struggled to maneuver through cattle pens and pastures on the farm with his prosthetic leg.
Crawford’s mother later encountered nerve damage to a leg during surgery, which made it difficult and painful for her to walk and limited her ability to spend time outdoors.
Those two experiences gave Crawford the idea for his new Lincoln company, Rocket Mobility, which manufactures single-seat personal all-terrain vehicles.
Crawford said there are very few products available that allow people with physical disabilities to get outdoors and go anywhere they want to with no limitations.
“There are tons of manufacturers of wheelchairs, and some are considered outdoors wheelchairs, but they’re not all-terrain wheelchairs,” he said.
Crawford said “outdoors” wheelchairs have slightly bigger wheels or thicker tread on their tires that help them move on roads and sidewalks, but they are not meant for off-road activities.
Instead of wheels, his vehicles run on tracks, like tanks, that allow them to move easily and smoothly over rough terrain.
They run on electric batteries that have a range of up to 12 miles and can go as fast as six miles an hour.
They also have a patent-pending joystick control mechanism that makes them easy to maneuver, even for people whose limited mobility may extend beyond their legs.
Crawford said the vehicles should appeal to an array of people who have limited mobility, including wounded veterans, people with physical disabilities and elderly people who struggle to get around.
Crawford said he spent several years researching the market and perfecting the product. It helped that he owns a similar business making power lawn spreaders, which gave him a place to tinker.
The vehicles are manufactured out of the same space, with parts that are made locally.
Crawford said he has taken the vehicles to a couple of trade shows and plans to start selling them after the first of the year.
All sales will be direct from the factory to begin with, but he said he hopes to eventually sign up some dealers.
The vehicles are considered recreational and not medical, Crawford said, which means Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance won’t pay for them.
The base models cost just under $10,000, which Crawford said is comparable to a higher-end all-terrain vehicle and cheaper than many electric wheelchairs, which can run more than $20,000.
Added accessories include a headlight, gun rack, roll bar and five-point safety harness.
He said his vehicles have advantages over traditional utility and all-terrain vehicles, including a lower center of gravity that makes them very hard to tip over and better ease of access to get in and out of the seat. They also are much lighter, weighing in at just under 400 pounds, which makes them easier to transport.