Imagine a new type of powered wheelchair that’s totally waterproof, weighs just one-third of a regular powered wheelchair, and doesn’t need its batteries to be replaced at great cost every couple of years. That’s what researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) have created with a new wheelchair design that’s powered by compressed air.
Oh, and they’ve built a four-wheel scooter, which runs on the same principle, for good measure, too.
Called the PneuChair, the wheelchair weighs just 80 pounds, is constructed from components available from any local hardware store, and can be recharged in just 10 minutes using an air compressor, as opposed to the multi-hour charging of a regular battery-powered wheelchair. (The downside is that it only has a range of around three miles, however.)
The PneuChair project’s lead mechanical engineer was graduate student researcher Brandon Daveler. “As a power wheelchair user for over 10 years, I first-handedly understand the issues of battery-powered devices,” he told Digital Trends. “So developing the technology will not only help myself but also the millions of other powered mobility device users.”
At present, the team is busy testing the prototypes to ensure they meet the necessary wheelchair standards. Plans to perform a pilot study using the devices are also in development to gain feedback from potential users, with the intent to eventually pursue a grant to perform a larger clinical trial.
And after that? Hopefully FDA approval, and marketing the technology to potential customers.
“I hope that the PneuMobility products will gain world-wide reach and help to solve problems associated with batteries for people in low-income countries where reliable electric power is a problem, in long-term care facilities where safety and battery maintenance is a problem — [and] perhaps even grocery stores, malls, and big-box stores,” Dr. Rory Cooper, Director of HERL, told Digital Trends.
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