Inspired by bicycles, scooters, and skateboards that make their users feel happy, and designed by former Sony, Toyota, and Olympus engineers, startup Whill has taken its first wheelchair, the Type-A, from an idea to production. The company says the chair is now available for preorder and will start shipping within the US in early 2014.
Most 2-year-olds are toddling around, getting into everything they can reach. A little boy named Alejandro has the same desire to explore as any other kid, but his movements are limited by Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative genetic disease. He is a bright and social child, but his condition has left him physically very weak.
Health insurance hasn't been much help, saying Alejandro will have to wait five years to get a powered wheelchair. That wasn't acceptable to his parents, so dad Shea took matters into his own maker hands. "Our best option was to for me to try to build something myself," Shea writes in his Hacking SMA blog documenting his family's experience.… Read more
Cerebral palsy has left California resident Danny Cope in a powered wheelchair. There is a trail running out back behind his house. Due to the limitations of his wheelchair, he never had the opportunity to take that trail. Thanks to the work of a group of students, he can now get off the pavement and onto more rugged terrain.
The students are part of LASA Robotics, the robotics team at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, a high school in Austin, Texas.
The group worked on the wheelchair for two years. Many local businesses donated supplies, while FedEx donated the shipping for the large package from Austin to California.… Read more
While wheelchair design is advancing, allowing chairs to do things like move sideways and diagonally and follow the person next to them, stairs and curbs remain a formidable hurdle for all but a few models. It's an obstacle, however, that Japanese researchers are looking to overcome.
A team at Chiba Institute of Technology has rolled out a new robotic wheelchair that can climb over steps, ditches, and other roadblocks. The four-wheel-drive, five-axis vehicle maneuvers like a typical wheelchair -- except when it encounters an obstacle. Then it uses its wheels like legs. … Read more
Wheelchair-using British artist Sue Austin can fly... underwater. In a series of live and film events called "Creating the Spectacle," Austin uses a modified wheelchair to move gracefully about in the blue.
The Lego wheelchair is a prototype capable of moving a nearly 200-pound person around. The wheelchair uses quite a few bits from the Lego Mindstorms line. There are 12 Rotacaster multi-directional wheels providing the rolling.… Read more
Japanese researchers led by Masaharu Komori, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Kyoto University, recently demoed the Permoveh, or Personal Mobility Vehicle, as a prototype next-generation wheelchair.
The Permoveh has four wheels of the same size, and each wheel contains 32 rollers that can rotate in a perpendicular direction to the rim. As the vid below shows, the vehicle can move in any direction when the user operates a hand-held control.
When the user wants to travel forward or back, the wheels alone move; when going sideways, the rollers move. When traveling diagonally, both wheels and rollers move. … Read more
A Web site and app out of Germany applies the wiki approach to maps, enabling users around the world to use the OpenStreetMap platform to rate and comment on the wheelchair accessibility of a wide range of establishments, from bars and shops to underground metro stops.
Called Wheelmap, the free app for iOS devices is in English, German, and Japanese, and while still in beta (version 1.1 adds Japanese), it already includes details on some 30,000 locations, with roughly 300 new user ratings every day.
Wheelmap is the brainchild of Raul Krauthausen, who wanted to create a service … Read more
The wheelchair, which is considered standard in all other respects, uses a distance sensor to determine which way the followed person's shoulders are facing so that it can change direction as the leader does.
"[Care] facilities sometimes don't have enough staff, so a single helper has to push two wheelchairs," a Saitama spokesperson says in a news report. "With wheelchairs like this, which can follow automatically, you can … Read more
A new sniff-sensing controller out of Israel may enable the severely paralyzed to navigate wheelchairs, surf the Net, and communicate in writing via controlled inhalations and exhalations.
The system, being developed at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, employs a sensor that fits in a nostril's opening and measures changes in air pressure. A pressure transducer translates this information into electrical signals, which are transmitted to a computer, and its specialized software, via USB connection. Patients on respirators use a passive version of the device that diverts airflow to their nostrils.
Researchers tested the system on 96 healthy volunteers and 10 quadriplegics, with promising results. Some users, the team says, were able to navigate an electric wheelchair around a complex path or play a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick (watch the video below to see a demonstration of the wheelchair in action).
While the system can be made to work with a variety of sniffs (long or short, strong or shallow), researchers employed a simple sniff code for their tests: A "double sniff in" implied "forward;" a "double sniff out" implied backward; a successive "sniff out then in" implied left; and a successive "sniff in then out" implied right.
Using incremental signals (a "left" command turned the chair left, another "left" command turned it farther left) volunteers navigated wheelchairs indoors and outdoors, with the most complicated maneuvers, executed both by healthy and quadriplegic volunteers, being sharp turns.
The scientists were particularly encouraged by tests conducted on three patients with Locked-In-Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which cognitive function remains unimpaired, but all voluntary muscles are paralyzed, except for those that control eye movement. The condition was famously portrayed in the 2007 film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," which told the true story of a journalist with Locked-In who dictated his memoir through eye blinks alone.
Sniffing is a precise motor skill controlled in part by the soft palate, the flexible divider that moves to direct air in or out through the mouth or nose. Because the soft palate is controlled by nerves that connect to it directly through the braincase, the Weizmann team built on its theory that control over soft palate movement might stay intact even in the most acute cases of paralysis.
Using the sniffing system to control a computer cursor, the Locked-In testers were--after considerable practice--able to communicate with family members, said Noam Sobel, a Weizmann Institute professor of neurobiology who developed the system with electronics engineers Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod, and research student Lee Sela. "Some wrote poignant messages to their loved ones, sharing with them, for the first time in a very long time, their thoughts and feelings," he said. … Read more