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Waterproof wheelchair uses compressed air as energy source

27 April 2017

A new waterproof, motorised wheelchair that runs entirely on compressed air was unveiled at Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park in Texas.

PneuChair (Credit: Morgan's Wonderland)

The water park was built specifically for individuals with disabilities and ten of these chairs are now available to visitors at the new splash park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island. 

The chairs were designed, developed and constructed at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research laboratories (HERL). The patent-pending PneuChair uses high-pressured air as an energy source, instead of heavy batteries and electronics. The chair weighs about 36kg overall and takes just 10 minutes to recharge, compared to eight hours to charge an electric mobility device.

HERL, which is a joint effort between Pitt and the US Department of Veterans Affairs, was already working on a prototype of the PneuChair when it heard from representatives from Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR), a non-profit organisation established by The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation of San Antonio to oversee Morgan’s Wonderland. They asked HERL for help in developing powered mobility for the new splash park.

“Their needs and our research were essentially an ideal match,” says Rory Cooper, HERL director and distinguished professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at Pitt. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative.”

Brandon Daveler is a Pitt graduate student researcher and the lead mechanical design engineer on the project. “The PneuChair uses a simpler design without a lot of electronics and software,” he says. “If something goes wrong, any of the components can be purchased at your local hardware store.”

The maximum distance on one fully charged tank is around three miles, about a third of the distance an electric chair can travel before it needs to be recharged. Pitt and SOAR are looking to establish a long-term licensing agreement wherein the PneuChair could be used in a variety of markets - personal care homes, shopping venues, grocery stores or airports. 

For more information on Morgan's Wonderland, click here.

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