There are some interesting developments going on at the moment as scientists and inventors work on improving the functionality of wheelchairs. Take a look at some of the directions the future of the wheelchair may take:

The WHILL is an add-on which turns normal wheelchairs into electric ones. The device clamps onto the wheels of manual wheelchairs, allowing the user to travel over long distances at speeds of up to 12 miles an hour.

The WHILL
The WHILL

The device has two “hubs” that strap onto the wheels and a bar that joins them together which goes over the user. Once it is attached it works on the same sort of principle as a Segway. You simply press down on the bar in the direction you want to go and the WHILL does all the work.

It isn’t on sale yet but they will be taking pre-orders from December 2012. It is likely to cost around 500,000 Yen (about £3,800).

Another possible development is the transformable wheelchair concept designed by Caspar Schmitz. The idea behind this design is to make everyday obstacles, like steps, less of a problem for wheelchair users. It’s very sleek and modern; it looks like something from Star Trek.

Transformable Wheelchair Concept
Transformable Wheelchair Concept

The wheels are made of  an elastic plastic making them more flexible than normal wheelchair wheels. When an obstacle is encountered the wheels convert to ellipsoid shape in which it is possible to get over them. It’s quite complicated but it seems to work sort of like how a tank works. Hopefully these pictures will help to clear things up:

The wheels change shape when you meet a barrier
The wheels change shape when you meet a barrier…
and this shape can climb stairs!
and this shape can climb stairs!

Another design trying to find a way around everyday obstacles for people in wheelchairs is the Chiba robotic wheelchair. A prototype was revealed in October this year of this chair which is most easily described as having wheels that, when you encounter a step, become legs!

It sounds incredibly complicated to work: “The chair’s on-board computer assesses the obstacle and determines whether or not the leg can negotiate the step. Meanwhile, the other legs realign themselves to keep the chair stable. If the size and distance of the obstacle are right, the chair steps on or over it. If it makes a mistake, the variable wheel torque acts as a backup to power the chair over the obstruction.”

Not only can the chair climb up steps and over ditches, it also moves the position of it’s wheels in order to keep the user perfectly balanced.

Click here to see the chair in action.

This extraordinary robot wheelchair is still in the early ‘concept’ stage and some distance from being ready to be released. This means that at this stage the design is rather more functional than stylish. But it’s fascinating to think this could soon be a reality.

It's climbing steps
Is this the stage when have to start worrying about the robots taking over?

Something quite different is taking place in Israel where Izhar Gafni has designed a wheelchair made almost entirely out of cardboard.

Gafni has already created the cardboard bicycle which he has declared as a “game changer” in Africa. The bikes are incredibly cheap to build and are being sold for £12.50 as well as being made from recyclable materials. By repeatedly folding the cardboard and then treating it with a secret product the bikes are strong enough to support peoples weight.

It doesn't look like cardboard...but it is
It doesn’t look like cardboard…but it is

It’s almost too strange to be true and now plans for a cardboard wheelchair are in the works. Considering that the bike isn’t being mass-produced yet, it is presumably going to be a while until the wheelchair becomes available.

So there are some interesting new developments going on regarding the wheelchairs of the future. In a sense this is all rather pointless since none of them are available to buy yet. It’s all pretty interesting though.

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