Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thai researchers unveil standing wheelchair

From The Nation in Thailand:

Disabled people who are normally confined to a seated position in a traditional wheelchair are now be able to stand up and stretch out with ease and safety thanks to the local development of a standing wheelchair.

The standing wheelchair, developed by a research team at Thammasat University with funding from the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), will be one of the highlights at the NSTDA's Annual Conference, starting on Thursday at Thailand Science Park.

The head of the development team Bunyong Rungroungdouyboon, said the semi-powered standing wheelchair was assistive technology, similar to a standing frame, which allowed a wheelchair user to raise the chair from a seated to a standing position. The standing wheelchair supports a person in a standing position and enables interaction with people and objects at eye level.

The device took two years to develop, and the first standing wheelchair was ready for use in late 2009. Since then, more than 50 standing wheelchairs have been built and are in daily use by disabled people.

"We were supported by research and development funding from NSTDA. As the result we have developed and provided 50 standing wheelchairs for disabled people in Thailand at a cost of Bt 15,000 each, and that is much cheaper than imported models," Bunyong said, adding that the development was based on machine engineering and the standing wheelchairs are produced by the Thai Wheel Company.

This standing wheelchair won a national engineering award in 2009 and a consolation prize in "i-Create 2009" - the IBM Assistive Rehabilitative Technology Student Design Challenge.

Apart from the standing wheelchair, many other examples of local research and development will be demonstrated at the NSTDA's Annual Conference (NAC 2011), which will run from Thursday through Saturday.

The theme of the conference relates science and technology to preparing to deal with a disaster of global proportions. There will be more than 100 research and development showcases and seminars with 30 different topics - for instance, "Facing Climate Change Impact with Science & Technology: From Urban Floods to Forest Fires" by Chinese climate-change researcher Professor Ding Chen.

Technology showcases will include rapid-prototyping technology and a basic building block for carbon nanomaterials called GrapheneX.

Rapid-prototyping technology involves the automatic construction of physical objects using additive manufacturing technology. It takes virtual designs from computer-aided design (CAD) or animation modelling software, transforms them into thin, virtual, horizontal cross-sections and then creates successive layers until the model is complete.

The head of the research team at the National Metal and Materials Technology Centre Kriskrai Sitthiseripratip said the project aimed to develop novel materials that would allow a basically industrial process to be given medical applications, especially for bone implants.

The raw materials usually used by rapid-prototyping technology are unsuitable for medical applications, so the process had to be converted to silicone or plaster moulds, and these required additional procedures, time and cost, he said.

However, the process was eventually refined and is now used to improve the quality and safety of surgery for Thai patients. To date, about 850 patients in 77 hospitals throughout the country have benefited from this research.

Meanwhile, GrapheneX is a basic building block for carbon nanomaterials such as 0D buckball, 1D carbon nanotubes and 2D graphite. It has several advantages, such as providing large 2D electrical conductivity, a large surface area, high elasticity, high thermal conductivity and transparency as well as a tuneable band gap.

It also has high mechanical strength, being almost 200 times stronger than steel and, more importantly, it is based on graphite, which is commercially available at a low cost.

The director of the Nanoelectronics and Microelectromechanical Systems Laboratory at the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec), Adisorn Tuantranont, said his research team had come up with a proprietary formula for synthesising graphene polymer conductive ink by using a method called electrolytic exfoliation.

It can be used as a transparent electrode to replace indium tin oxide (ITO) in flexible displays.

"When Thailand has uplifted its capability in graphene-based electronic-device technology, we will be able to use it not only for displays but also to build nanotransistors down to 10 nanometres, with 100GHZ and memory devices," he said.

Graphene also provides a large surface area that is suitable for electrochemical sensors and molecular-gas sensors because it boosts sensor sensitivity by more than 50 per cent, he said.