Wheelchair Innovation

Quantum leap in design set to allow wheelchair users to get up stairs unaided.

Wheelchairs go back a long, long time. The first self-propelled wheelchair was invented in 1655 by paraplegic clock-maker from Nuremberg, Germany Stephan, who built his own mobility aid when he was only 22 after having broken his back as a child. Three hundred years later in 1933, Harry Jennings and his disabled friend Herbert Everest, both mechanical engineers, invented the first lightweight, steel, folding, portable wheelchair - becoming the first mass-market manufacturers of wheelchairs.

From then until today, very little of significance has changed. But now a group of young Swiss innovators has designed a revolutionary new mobility device for the disabled.

Their “wheelchair of the future”, named Scewo, can climb stairs thanks to a set of retractable rubber tracks, allowing users to reach places that would otherwise have been inaccessible.

“Stairs are climbed sitting backward and driven down in the forward position,” says Thomas Gemperle, one of 10 students who developed the Scewo in partnership with Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology and University of the Arts.

The chair has many other novel features, too. For example, a user can steer it simply by shifting body weight, and cannot tip it over. Gemperle says he hopes the Scewo’s unique qualities will make people look at users “with admiration instead of pity.”

A commercial launch is planned for the middle of next year.

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