[Image Source: Morgan’s Wonderland]
The revolutionary, waterproof wheelchair was designed and constructed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL).
The pneumatic wheelchair
The prototype for the pneumatic wheelchair was already being developed by HERL, together with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and UPMC, when representatives from The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation approached the team of researchers to ask for help in developing powered mobility for the new Morgan’s Waterpark it is overseeing.
The PneuChair is powered by high-pressure air kept in a compressed tank and mounted below the wheelchair. It is more sustainable and convenient compared to conventional battery-powered electronic wheelchairs. Because the main purpose of these wheelchairs is to provide mobility to disabled clients in an aquatic environment, they, therefore, must be waterproof. Electric wheelchairs simply won’t do as water and electricity are known to be incompatible and can cause deaths. PneuChair is only 80 pounds in weight and fully re-charge in just 10 minutes, while electric wheelchairs weigh much more because of heavy batteries and electronics and require up to 8 hours of recharging time. Moreover, the PneuChair is easy to operate and more convenient to maintain and repair.
[Image Source: University of Pittsburgh]
“The PneuChair uses a simpler design without a lot of electronics and software, if something goes wrong, any of the components can be purchased at your local hardware store”, says Brandon Daveler, the lead mechanical design engineer of PneuChair.
It’s capable of mobilizing a user for around three miles when the tank is fully charged.
Rory Cooper, HERL director and distinguished professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology gives his positive outlook on the release of PneuChair for Morgan’s Wonderland opening later this spring.
“Their needs and our research were essentially an ideal match. The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative”.
Long-term developments and partnership
Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR) is the non-profit organization, established by the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, is hoping to sign a long-term licensing agreement with Pitt (HERL) to further develop the PneuChair. The collaboration will look into marketing the revolutionary wheelchair to other sectors such as personal care homes, shopping venues, grocery stores, and airport.
HERL uses high-tech laboratories and instruments to study robotics for application in rehabilitation programs such as clinical training, wheelchair transfer efficiency, athletics, and force and vibrations on wheelchairs.
Morgan’s Wonderland is just one of the many initiatives of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation that promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities to the public. They are focused on assisting families with special needs, especially those of children, to add quality to their lives and make it easier.
Through the breakthroughs in technology, even individuals with disabilities can keep up with the ever-advancing future of the world.