The University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) is one of the United States’ foremost research institutes for assistive technology. Researchers at HERL primarily focus on wheelchairs and their accessories, and HERL engineers have invented and prototyped some revolutionary devices. The lab’s latest invention, the PneuMobility Wheelchair, stands to revolutionize the electric wheelchair.
Put simply, an electric wheelchair is one that is powered by electricity. Put less simply, they are designed for people who, for one reason or another, can’t use standard push rim wheelchairs (i.e., the ones you see people propelling by manually spinning the wheels). Depending on the make and model, electric wheelchairs can support numerous optional features, such as Bluetooth connectivity and a seat lift. However, electric wheelchairs are expensive, require a good deal of maintenance, and take hours to recharge. Researchers at HERL hope to fix these issues with the PneuMobility Wheelchair.
The PneuMobility Wheelchair starts with one simple design change: instead of being powered by a large electric battery, it is powered by pressurized air canisters. Without the battery, the PneuMobility Wheelchair does not need any electronic components, which in turn simplifies the wheelchair design, makes it lighter, and significantly decreases the amount of required maintenance. Furthermore, recharging this wheelchair is as simple as replacing the air canisters, which only takes a few minutes. Most importantly, the PneuMobility Wheelchair is relatively inexpensive and fabricated with components you can buy at your local Home Depot or Mom and Pop hardware store, which is a boon for people who can’t afford electric wheelchairs.
While the above is an impressive list of features, the PneuMobility Wheelchair has one more advantage: it is completely waterproof. Since this device has no electronic parts or battery, exposure to water won’t short out the components. Therefore, this wheelchair is ideal for beaches, lakes, pools, and water parks. Granted, I would not recommend going into the water with the wheelchair, but people can still use them around water slides without fear of a short circuit.
Right now, the PneuMobility Wheelchair is in the testing phase; the engineers are currently looking into the device’s feasibility and how it compares to electric wheelchairs, especially how far it can travel before it runs out of air. Soon, the wheelchair will undergo durability, maneuverability, and stability tests. If it passes the tests, we might see PneuMobility Wheelchairs (and PneuMobility Scooters) in public. And, water parks could offer these devices to people who use electric wheelchairs, so they can enjoy their attractions. No matter what, the device will give people who can’t use push rim wheelchairs a new affordable option.