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Wheels of Change – taking a wheelchair from dream to reality

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As engineering partner for the Whizz-Kidz Wheels of Change project, supported by the People's Postcode Lottery Dreamfund, Frazer-Nash, and project partners are working to help Whizz-Kidz realise its dream of producing a powered wheelchair fit for the 21st century.

As engineering partner for the Whizz-Kidz Wheels of Change project, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery Dreamfund, Frazer-Nash, and project partners the University of Edinburgh, Somo Global, Aergo and Curtiss-Wright, are working to help Whizz-Kidz realise its dream of producing a powered wheelchair fit for the 21st century.

Duchenne UK is Whizz-Kidz' project partner for the Wheels of Change project. Whizz-Kidz CEO, Ruth Owen OBE, said:

"Whizz-Kidz is proud to be at the centre of this project, which could not have happened without the funding provided by players of the People's Postcode Lottery.

“The Wheels of Change project is an amazing development that will take us from concept to completed working demonstrator, within two years. It is incredible, because it is an attempt to bring the basic concept of a wheelchair and make it fit for purpose beyond 2020."

Describing the work being taken to bring the wheelchair of the future to life, Anna Will, Frazer-Nash’s Project Manager, says:

“It’s an exciting time in the dream wheelchair development process, as each day parts of the chair are turning from concept to reality, with components being selected, designs finalised, and workshop discussions between Whizz-Kidz and the partners moving us closer towards our goal.

“We’ve taken a user-centric approach to developing a concept: we wanted the user to be at the heart of the dream wheelchair design. Based on the requirements identified in the innovation hubs that Whizz-Kidz held with wheelchair users, their parents, and carers, we drew-up a number of initial chair design concepts. We then spoke to users, engineers and occupational therapists to help us downselect the essential features on each concept. Each interview provided us with invaluable insight and design considerations, highlighting the pros, the cons, the likes, the dislikes. Drawing upon the diverse user feedback – from ‘that wouldn’t work’ and ‘that would really help me’, to ‘where can I hang my bag’, and ‘where can I keep my phone’, we were able to produce a final concept design.”

The next step, says Anna, is to take this concept to reality:

“We’ve been analysing the engineering feasibility of the final concept design – examining how we can achieve the final concept’s key themes and functionality through engineering design. Our risk-based approach has involved two stages: in the first, we completed the scheme design to identify key components, developed an electronics architecture and identified design challenges.

“In the second stage, we’ve been ‘filling in the detail’, so that we have a chair ready to be built. As always in the engineering design process, a number of challenges have arisen, and design solutions have been found by the Wheels of Change team to overcome these. Our focus on the user requirements has been integral to each decision.

“Comfort and functionality are two of the users’ key requirements, and we’re pleased to be working alongside two new partners to the project, Aergo and Curtiss Wright, who will help us to meet these requirements.”

Postural seating specialist, Aergo, has developed air cells that can be inflated and deflated by wheelchair users to aid posture and comfort and alleviate pressure sores. Aergo’s founder and CEO, Hsin-Hua (Sheana) Yu, was recently named as one of InnovateUK’s top nine women in innovation. Sheana comments:

“Aergo is proud to be part of such a visionary project, collaborating with esteemed partners to deliver the Dream Wheelchair. Both this project and Aergo have the same mission - design to empower. We’re excited to introduce our patent pending air cell technology to the smart seat, offering a fully automated postural management solution to keep children comfortable and active as they explore and engage with the environment around them.”

Curtiss-Wright designs and manufactures state-of-the-art electronic control systems for battery-operated vehicles, including powered wheelchairs. Its system will help the Wheels of Change dream chair to deliver the best functionality and user experience.

Read more about the Wheels of Change project, and Frazer-Nash’s work on Whizz-Kidz’ #DreamWheelchair competition.