U ILLINOIS- URBANA-CHAMPAIGN (US)- New technology promisesto reduce the shoulder pain experienced by manual wheelchair users. Of theapproximately 2 million wheelchair users in the US, over half of them use amanual wheelchair.
Studies show that more than 70 percent of manual wheelchairusers will develop shoulder pain at some point in their lives. Compelled tosolve this real world problem, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaignhave developed a prototype for a manual wheelchair that automatically changesgears, making it easier for users to navigate various environments.
To bring this advancement to the public, Scott Daiglefounded IntelliWheels, Inc. in 2010. IntelliWheels is currently working ondesigning several products to benefit the wheelchair community. Daigle, agraduate student in the Illinois College of Engineering and recipient of the2011 Lemelson-MIT Illinois Student Prize, says he first got the idea forIntelliWheels after observing manual wheelchair users on campus.
“After attending both my undergraduate as well as graduateschool here, and seeing the miles and miles that make up this campus, I justfigured there could be a more efficient way for manual wheelchair users to makeit to where they need to go.”
Daigle’s solution is a discreet and lightweight automaticgear shifting mechanism, which attaches directly onto the manual wheelchair.This is known as the IntelliWheels AGS system and it is packaged as two wheelsthat are compatible with any manual wheelchair. Recognizing the movements ofthe user, IntelliWheels AGS automatically chooses the right gear for goinguphill, downhill, and across rough terrains. This technology does so bymonitoring how fast the user is going as well as how hard they are pushing.
For the IntelliWheels team, this automated system wascrucial because they did not want their technology to require the user toexpend any extra time or effort to change gears. This design is ideal forreducing load on the upper body while making gear shifting transparent to theuser. Much of this insight came from the people who know wheelchairs best, theusers.
Athletic trainer for the USA Paralympic teams and co-founderof IntelliWheels, Marissa Siebel, comments on the input from users. “It wasimportant for us, when designing this product, to ensure it could be attachedto any manual chair. After talkingwith users, we knew they wanted something that would allow them to keep usingthe chair they were comfortable with.”
Along with the AGS system, IntelliWheels is also working on set o fcaster skis that will clip onto the caster wheels of any wheelchair helpingmake it easier to move through snow during winter. In addition, a compact sparetire kit for wheelchairs complete with parts and color-coded instructions iscurrently available for purchase on the IntelliWheels website (www.intelli-wheels.com