High School Students Are Working To Improve the Wheelchair

Engineering students at Staten Island High School recently won an award for a wheelchair prototype they designed. The wheelchair features a built-in massage system, an omni-directional drivetrain that enables lateral and circular movement and a seat that has the ability to heat and cool the occupant. The team plans to apply for a patent by the end of this summer.

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Engineering Solutions

Disabled persons who rely on wheelchairs for mobility often complain of many issues related to the design. The 'Team TechSmart' students at Staten Island High School addressed these problems by designing a prototype wheelchair from the ground up. Many of the ideas developed by the team were the direct result of interviewing wheelchair specialists and the wheelchair-bound. However, the prospect of building a new kind of wheelchair was daunting, but once the team began to think about how to solve some of the problems associated with common wheelchair design, namely comfort and maneuverability, they quickly settled into the process of engineering various solutions.

Sitting Pretty

One of the first issues the team decided to tackle was wheelchair seating. Wheelchair users sit for long periods of time and can suffer from bedsores and other issues. In response to these common complaints, the team designed a new seat called the comfort control wheelchair seating system. The new seating system features three improvements for users. In order to combat bedsores and numbness, the seat responds to the user by changing pressure points. Additionally, the seat also includes a vibrating, massage feature and the ability to cool the body down by utilizing a built-in air conditioning system.

Easy Maneuverability

Current wheelchair design does not allow for easy movement. In order to turn left or right, wheelchair users typically have to make wide turns. The team responded to this issue by designing an omni-directional drivetrain. The drivetrain features four wheels, each with its own motor. Two wheels, parallel to each other, face one direction, while the remaining two wheels, also parallel to each other, face a direction that is approximately 90 degrees away. The drivetrain is controlled from a joystick on the right hand rest.

With the omni-directional drivetrain in place, a user can move in circles, thereby eliminating the issue of wide turns. The wheelchair prototype also has one more trick up its sleeve. It can move sideways. This movement is enabled by creating wheels that are composed of smaller micro-wheels. These micro-wheels do not hinder the chair when the occupant wants to move perpendicular to the main axis of motion.

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