Mind-Controlled Wheelchairs Going Farther Than Ever Before

By: | February 14th, 2013

The innovations we are seeing across the board in product design and development are leaving no stone unturned: wheelchairs are no exception.

Researchers have developed a brain-powered chair, illuminated wheels, hubless wheels, wheelchairs that move in new ways, ergonomic wheelchairs, double-action wheelchairs, autonomous robotic wheels, shape shifting wheelchairs, wheelchairs with two-person seating, adventurous wheelchairs for heavy outdoor trekking, hip stylized wheelchairs, and electric wheelchair converters.  And there are new designs every day.

The brain powered wheelchair is being developed by a team of neuroprosthetics researchers led by Professor Jose del Millan  of the world-class Center for Neuroprosthetics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Switzerland.  Researchers use brain signals to control devices and interact with the environment.

Researchers are pushing the boundaries of biotechnology, microelectronics, and neural implants and integrating their expanding understanding of the brain and spinal cord, essentially creating and defining a new interdisciplinary area of study that merges neuroscience, engineering, and medicine, with breakthroughs in bioengineering and neurosciences to bring new prototypes to clinics for testing and development.

Much of the innovation in wheelchairs has to do with new materials, new configurations, smaller, lighter and optimized motors, but a significant amount is dedicated to making the wheelchair experience better.

Industrial designer Neilsen Navarrete of the Philippines got his inspiration for a new wheelchair design from an Audi R8 sports car.  The arms of the wheelchair have translucent compartments to store food, reading materials, etc.  The wheelchair is a hybrid that can be maneuvered by a motor or mechanically by pushing the wheelchair. The wheels are designed to remove all unnecessary parts. The seating of the chair is ergonomic since the rider spends a lot of time in it. Finally there is a suspension system attached to the round back wheel to make the ride smoother and the wheelchair more maneuverable.

Finally a person’s love of exploring the great outdoors should not be curtailed by injury or disability. A company called TC Mobility now offers the heavy-duty outdoor wheelchair.  Brad Soden, inventor of the Tank Chair, came up with the idea after his wife was injured in an accident and was unable to accompany the family for a long walk up a mountainside over rough terrain.  The Tank Chair is dubbed as an off-road wheelchair that can conquer streams, mud, snow, sand, and gravel allowing the rider to “get back to nature.”

They say life is movement and movement is life. It is encouraging to see how new wheelchair designs and technologies are enabling people to move about more freely.

David Russell Schilling

David enjoys writing about high technology and its potential to make life better for all who inhabit planet earth.

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