Monday, November 29, 2010

British designer tries to reinvent the wheelchair

From Tim Rushby Smith for The Guardian in the UK:

I don't like the expression "confined to a wheelchair". As a paraplegic, my wheelchair enables me to live a full and active life. But any wheelchair-user will tell you that trying to get a pair of 25in diameter wheels into a car can be a real pain. They have to be lifted over one's lap, a difficult manoeuvre, especially if it's wet and you are trying to look smart. Not to mention stowing them in aeroplane lockers, which is just impossible.

But designer Duncan Fitzsimons hopes to change all this with his invention of a wheelchair wheel that can be folded – tyres and all – until it fits into a sports bag. The former Royal College of Art design student explains: "One of our visiting tutors was discussing folding-bike design and how the wheel has to be big enough to give a good ride but small enough to fold into a manageable size. I decided to try to find a way to get the best of both worlds, which soon came down to having to fold the wheels.

"There aren't many ways you can fold a tyre up, but I soon realised that by pulling I could easily change it into a torpedo shape." The resulting foldable wheel weighs the same as a standard one.

At his graduation exhibition, Fitzsimons was told how useful the design could be for wheelchair users, and after a trip to the Mobility Roadshow, he sparked the interest of wheelchair companies.

His next step is deciding which manufacturer to licence his innovative design to. Now it's only a matter of time before wheelchair users will be able to fit big wheels into small spaces.