Look What’s Rolling into Your Future: New Wheelchair Designs
People with limited mobility have relied on wheelchairs for centuries to help them get around. But not much has changed in wheelchair design over the last 200 years. Modern wheelchairs use the same basic design that was developed many years ago.
All of that is changing. New wheelchair inventions make use of new technology and futuristic wheelchair designs that better meet the needs of the people who use them.
While the most important function of a wheelchair is to provide mobility to people who cannot walk, this is not the only feature that’s important in wheelchair design. For those who are long-term users of a wheelchair, a basic wheelchair won’t be practical. These users need some customization and special features, so the chair provides them with maximum mobility, comfort, and independence. Designers are coming up with new concepts to address these needs.
Another fact designers are considering is that not every wheelchair user has the same abilities. Some wheelchair users can stand or even walk for short distances. These people have more options than those who don’t have the use of either their arms or their legs. The important thing with wheelchairs is the design needs to be adjusted to the user. What the user can do is vital to deciding which wheelchair design will work the best for him.
As the technology advances, new features come into the mainstream. Other new wheelchair technologies use better materials, features, and parts. Newer designs use more lightweight materials or use new technologies for smart energy use, so wheelchair batteries last longer between charges. Some even use iPhone apps.
Still, other wheelchair designs focus on comfort. After all, if you’re going to be sitting in the chair for long periods of time, comfort is vital. Chairs that adjust the angle of legs and back will help the user change position and avoid some of the problems that come with being immobile.
New Trends in Innovative Wheelchair Design
What are some of the new concepts and innovations in wheelchair design? While some are merely practical, others go for looks or futuristic models.
Hand Rim Ergonomics
One feature of modern wheelchairs is the new hand rim technology which makes the rims ergonomic. These new designs have sculpted the hand rims to fit into the user’s hand, making it easier and more comfortable to propel the chair.
Sit and Stand Wheelchairs
One innovative wheelchair design lifts the wheelchair user into a standing position. Only those who have some use of their legs will be able to make of this technology. But for these wheelchair users, these advanced wheelchairs give them more independence, as they can now reach many more items on store shelves without assistance.
For those who can’t use the sit and stand chairs, there are advanced wheelchairs that elevate the user to the height they would be at if they were standing. Many users appreciate this feature since it allows them to talk with people at eye level, instead of being at the level of a child.
Converting a Manual Wheelchair to an Electric Wheelchair
One new wheelchair concept involves using a part that converts a standard manual wheelchair into an electric one. The gadget locks into the wheelchair’s wheels and is controlled by a joystick. This is a great option for people who can’t afford a power wheelchair.
For those who like to be out at night but are concerned about safety, illuminated wheelchairs might be the answer. Accidents have occurred because drivers failed to see the wheelchair user. Illuminated wheelchairs have lights that are powered by the rotation of the side wheels. The lights help the user navigate better in the dark as well as make it easier for others to see them.
New Electric Wheelchair Designs
New concepts in power wheelchairs focus on making it easier for users to get out and explore. These new electric wheelchair designs produce wheelchairs that are more compact and have intuitive controls. Many have an all-wheel-drive system, longer range and are easily transportable, so they’re appropriate to use at home, at work or out of doors.
These new chairs are more stable and durable, allowing the user to have control over the chair so they can enjoy being out and about. Users have more freedom to go out and not worry about getting stuck on some obstacle. These futuristic wheelchair designs try to give the wheelchair user the greatest mobility, even allowing them to travel upstairs and go over all kinds of terrain.
One really cool futuristic wheelchair design concept is the idea of transformable wheels. These chairs have wheels that can convert into oval shapes, which makes it possible for the chair to get over obstacles. These chairs can be pushed upstairs and over barriers.
Another innovative design uses a different approach. The designers placed a smaller wheel in front of the wheelchair to add traction, which makes climbing stairs possible. This eliminates what once was a wheelchair user’s biggest obstacle.
Other designers tackled this same challenge in another way. They added a set of retractable runner tracks just inside the wheelchair’s wheels. The tracks enable the chair to either climb the stairs or descend. When going up, the chair travels backward. When going down, the user faces forward. The tracks adapt to the angle of the stairs automatically. This way the user is kept the level at all times.
This chair also has the capability to lift users to a standing position by means of a pair of extra wheels in the rear. The chair can easily maneuver over obstacles like mud, stones, tram tracks, or curbs. And if the user gets tired of using the joystick to steer the chair? No problem. All they need to do is shift the weight of their upper body and the chair will respond. Built-in safety features make it virtually impossible to tip the chair over—in any direction.
One electric wheelchair design was developed specifically to allow users to take the equivalent of a stroll down the beach. Extra-wide tires and a smaller wheel on the back help give this wheelchair what it takes to travel over sand and stones.
Then there’s the tank wheelchair. This one was also developed to be all terrain. The side wheels of the chair are covered with the tread like what you’d see on a tank. The treads drape over a row of smaller wheels along the side of the chair, outside the main wheels. This tread allows the chair to travel wherever the user wants to go: over streams, sand, snow or mud.
Another innovation is the idea of self-driving wheelchairs. This chair is fitted with visual sensors that detect objects automatically, including glass doors. All the user needs to do is set the current location and the destination point and off they go.
This is a great choice for people like quadriplegics or others who have severe upper body limitations. While it may take some getting used to for users to give up control of their chairs, the benefit of being able to travel hands-free could make up for this. The University of Toronto is currently testing prototypes.
Wheelchair Design for Greater Efficiency
Designers at Massey University have been trying to come up with ways to minimize shoulder and wrist problems for users of self-propelled wheelchairs while making it easier for these users to travel uphill. Their prototype uses an innovative method of propulsion. The user pushes and pulls the chair forward without their hands ever leaving the rim of the wheel.
The result? Improved efficiency of all of the user’s arm movements, utilizing 100% of their effort, rather than 25% as in conventional wheelchairs. This design balances the load on the joints of the arms and reduces the impact on shoulders and wrists. The wheelchair also has a run mode, which uses three gears, much like bicycle gears, which helps when users are traveling uphill. While in run mode, the chair can’t go in reverse and roll back down a slope.
One innovative wheelchair is perfect for travel. It’s got hubless wheels and actually folds in half to just the size of the wheels, with the seat, backrest and footrest all tucked in between.
Wheelchairs for Disabled Parents
Another design has disabled parents in mind. It incorporates a baby stroller in front of the wheelchair so the parent can take their child out for some fresh air. This design ensures comfort and stability for both parent and child.
Brain Activated Wheelchairs
One of the most advanced wheelchair innovations is tailored for the most severely paralyzed people. Using a special headset, the user’s brain signals are sent through an iPhone app that senses the brain activity and then moves the chair. For example, the user can think of moving toward an object or person, and the wheelchair will do the work.
Futuristic Looks and Lightweight, Too
Designer Josh Waite used steel and sheet aluminum to create a sophisticated looking advanced wheelchair, with a sleek design and hubless wheels. Hubless wheels don’t have a central hub or spokes. They help make the chair more lightweight and help the user move freely without expending too much effort.
The accessible seat is easily adjusted and controlled. Segway technology enables the user to balance and control the chair, along with five gyroscopic sensors that ensure the chair is always upright and working properly.
Limits of Futuristic Wheelchair Designs
While many of the futuristic designs are exciting, they aren’t appropriate for all wheelchair users. This is because not all disabilities are the same. The sit-stand chairs, for example, will only work for people with good upper body strength. This means people with disabilities that affect only their legs muscles or lower spine would benefit greatly from these kinds of advanced wheelchairs. Those with neuromuscular diseases that affect their entire bodies would not be able to use the sit-stand chairs.
In addition, many of these futuristic designs have only been built as prototypes and may be abandoned as impractical. Others may be produced but will be too expensive for many users.
Still, every new idea could be the spark of something that leads to an affordable modern wheelchair that can help more people with disabilities find greater levels of mobility and independence. Who knows what kind of future wheelchairs they’ll come up with?