Rocket Mobility in Top 8 coolest Nebraska inventions

Rocket Mobility in Top 8 coolest Nebraska inventions

Mobility aids like wheelchairs, motorized scooters, walkers and canes are an incredible help to those who need them. However, many of them don’t really go “off-road” that well, according to Andy Havlovic, vice president of 3D Designs in Columbus.

That’s where Havlovic’s company steps in, giving those with mobility issues an all-terrain option.

“The primary purpose behind this is empowering them, giving them independence to not be confined to a concrete sidewalk or pavement. They’re able to get out and do the things they want. It breaks that mobility barrier,” Havlovic said.

Havlovic and his father acquired the company that made Rocket Mobility devices several years ago when the creator of the first model decided he couldn’t do both the chairs and his other job. Having a fabrication business to start, Havlovic said, it all came down to them making more and improving them. As they usually make parts for other companies, he added, it’s really cool to them to have a product to call their own.

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“Where this comes into play, it’s neat then to have our own product we make. It’s definitely a different venture and what makes it even more rewarding is who it goes to and seeing how it changes people’s lives,” Havlovic said.

Rocket Mobility has other offices, but the Columbus facility is where the parts are manufactured and sent to Prague for assembly. They try to keep every aspect of construction, from the base to the electronics, local if they can, Havlovic said.

Luke Heaton, vice president of customer relations at 3D Designs, has been at the presentation of these devices to their users many times and every time, he said, the recipients light up when they get to see it and try it out, from children to farmers to veterans.

“Through this whole deal, when you see the true heroes of this country, the people who come back from Afghanistan and Iraq missing a leg, who got hit by an IED (improvised explosive device), those in my opinion are true heroes,” Heaton said. “When you see them get emotional because they can now do something we take for granted every day with the product we’re building, that’s about as cool as it gets.”

While they make the devices for whoever is in the market for one, they work with an organization called the Freedom Alliance out of Winchester, Virginia that provides the devices to veterans who lost the use of their legs. Being able to see them get their freedom of movement back, Heaton said, is the best part of working with the machines.

“You see them with tears of happiness in their eyes because they can do things they don’t need to get help to do anymore,” Heaton said. “They can ride the chair to the edge of lake and throw a fishing pole in, go back in the woods and turkey hunt, they don’t have to have someone push or carry them, they’re getting their independence back.”

Tom Kilgannon, president of the Freedom Alliance, even sent out a letter in regard to the device making it in the top 16 (now top eight) of the list and urging his colleagues to vote with him.

“Not only is the Rocket Mobility Tracked Chair the coolest product made in Nebraska, it is the one that makes the biggest impact on America’s wounded veterans,” Kilgannon said in the email. “Freedom Alliance has worked with Rocket Mobility to provide these chairs to troops who’ve lost their ability to walk because they sacrificed for our country. In honor of the heroes Freedom Alliance has helped, I’m casting my vote for the Rocket Mobility Tracked Chair!”

The list, organized by the Nebraska Manufacturing Alliance, seeks to highlight Nebraskan ingenuity and perpetuity as some of the inventions have been around for only a few years, others for a very long time.

As examples, the Rocket Mobility devices were up against Costco rotisserie chickens and T-Rex Basketball hoops in the first round. Now they are up against Bakers Candies Meltaways, Endicott Invisi-Lug clay pavers, Danko firetrucks, Flyover Whiskey, the Geothermal Greenhouse in the Snow-Antioch Machine Shop, Drone Amplified’s Ignis and Collins Aerospace’s Ram Air Turbine Hub.

Being on the list, Havlovic said, is an honor.

Voting runs until Sept. 10 on nemanufacturingalliance.com, at which point the final four inventions will be announced. Havlovic said that, in his opinion, the Rocket Mobility device is the coolest invention in Nebraska because of the experience it gives both the recipient and the people who make them to see the impact the device has on a person’s life.

“It’s what it looks like, what it can do and how it benefits people’s lives,” Havlovic said. “I can’t describe it other than if you go to a presentation and are part of that experience, seeing the smile on a recipient’s face or that person getting in and having that freedom. It’s hard to describe.”

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