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Surprising Science

For People In Developing Countries, A Better Wheelchair

Two Chalmers University of Technology students designed a nearly-all-steel chair with alternating seat positions that give users better leverage when navigating down unpaved roads and around other obstacles.

What’s the Latest Development?

This June, a wheelchair won top prize for student design at the annual conference of the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). Chalmers University of Technology students Christian Bremer and Erik Ohlson developed their prototype while working with a nonprofit company that provides wheelchairs for people in developing countries. They then took it to Indonesia, where testers — including one who had not left her parents’ home in the 10 years since her motorcycle accident — gave them valuable feedback. 

What’s the Big Idea?

To make the wheelchair easier to use in areas with unpaved roads and other obstacles, Bremer and Ohlson gave it two different seat positions, each of which provides the user with the leverage they need to navigate safely. Unlike traditional chairs, theirs is almost entirely made out of steel, which means it can be serviced at any bicycle repair shop with welding equipment. Encouraged by the success of the prototype, Bremer and Ohlson hope to build more and, with the help of charities and other funding sources, make them available at little or no cost: “We want to live up to all of the expectations we have encountered from the users in Indonesia.”

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