ARE CUSTOMISED WHEELCHAIRS NEARLY HERE?
Rachael Wellach, Disrupt Disability’s founder and CEO and Steve Cox, Amorfi Consulting’s 3D Tech Consultant, have developed to the world’s first generatively designed modular wheelchair - Wheelwear.
It consists of five interchangeable modules: the seat, backrest, rear wheel axle, cast support and footrest. They can all be swapped around depending on what the user wants to use the wheelchair for at any given time and customised according to their measurements and preferences.
Another positive is that it can potentially retail for under the usual £2,000 price of typical personalised models and aims to bridge the gap between mobility device and fashion. Obviously, weight is a consideration and fine-tuning it is still in progress but according to Cox, a reduction in weight will come as metal additive manufacturing (AM) technology (which enables a lattice structure instead of a solid one) develops. From this he predicts around a 40% weight reduction of the side frames. This will mean that fewer materials are used, lower production and shipping costs are incurred, and most importantly it will make life easier for the user – all significant positives.
The seat will be made by selective laser sintering or SLS. This is one of the technologies used by 3D printers during which tiny particles of glass, ceramic or plastic are fused together by heat from a high-power laser forming a three-dimensional solid object.
And, as this is just the first attempt at producing a customised modular wheelchair, inevitably the process will develop – not least because some pieces of technology that weren’t available to be used this time are extremely likely to be used in the future. For example, metal 3D printing will enable lighter side frames to be made in quicker time, while 3D scanning will return more precise measurements.
Listening the suggestions from wheelchair users and professional designers, Disrupt Disability developed from a series of hackathons (events at which a large group of people meet take part in computer programming collaborations), and aims to assist the millions of people worldwide who require a wheelchair and would like it to be a little more personal and individual.
The idea is that the modular nature of Wheelwear means users can continue to customise the wheelchair to suit their body, the environment and their own fashion style – just as they might change their shoes. So, a visit to the beach for example might simply mean a change of front wheels.
New modules designed for sand, snow and rough terrain are in development, as are a choice of fashion seats and an ergonomic backrest. So, at Disrupt Disability, form and function finally meet.
Lewis Reed Group
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