STEM: Wheelchair Innovation

The original photo was by Research Innovation and Technology, NGM Art.

I like simple solutions.  Like interrupting the guinea worm disease using cheesecloth to filter the water.  Simple is elegant.  It’s often low-tech. It’s always genius in its simplicity.  That’s how I felt when I saw this wheelchair in my National Geographic. The Leverage Freedom Chair (LCF), designed by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team. I scanned the pic from the copy of the magazine I got in the mail. Karen de Seve wrote about it for National Geographic.

See the wheels?  They are bicycle wheels and tires. Actually the parts that drive the chair are bike parts.  Look closely and you can see the gears and chain under the seat. The parts are fairly inexpensive, easy to find, and simple to replace. As important, if not more important, the LCF can go over cobbles, curbs, and rocky roads. That’s really important in areas less developed or quainter than downtown Chicago.

The LCF moves forward by pumping the vertical bars with the arms.  (Of course, it can be pushed, too, with the handles on back.) Grabbing the bars high increases torque, which makes it easier to go up hill or move over rough ground.  Grabbing the bars low turns the wheel more with each stroke, making the LCF go faster. Moving one bar makes the chair turn.

The inventors created a start-up that makes the chairs for NGOs and government agencies that distribute them for free.

Getting around with a wheelchair is not easy, even on the accessible sidewalks where I live.  I’m sure the one CoCo used while she went through her surgeries, would be next to useless in an area with cobbles or rutted roads.

Simple, elegant technology.  The kind of invention that makes me scratch my head and ask, “Why did it take so long?”

I like it. What do you think?