Although there are plenty of waterproof electronic devices out there, it' still safe to say that generally-speaking, electricity and water don't mix. So, what do you do if you're designing a powered wheelchair for use in a splash park? If you're part of the team at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), you power it using compressed air.
The HERL engineers had already been working on a prototype compressed-air-powered wheelchair, when they were contacted by the Sports Outdoor and Recreation group. Also known as SOAR, the non-profit oversees operations at Morgan's Wonderland, a theme park for people with disabilities located in San Antonio, Texas. What SOAR wanted was a form of powered mobility for the venue's new splash park, Morgan's Inspiration Island.
The resulting PneuChair is powered by onboard compressed air tanks, so there are no batteries or other electronics to worry about getting wet. It weighs 80 lb (36 kg), features a very simple design ("any of the components can be purchased at your local hardware store"), and takes just 10 minutes to recharge from an air compressor – a conventional battery-powered chair takes several hours.
That short recharge time is definitely a good thing, as the PneuChair has a range of only about three miles (4.8 km), or approximately one third that of a battery-powered model.
Plans call for there to be 10 of the chairs available for customers, when Morgan's Inspiration Island opens later this spring. The university is also looking into licensing the technology for use in locations such as personal care homes, shopping venues, grocery stores or airports.
The PneuChair – along with its scooter variant – can be seen in use, in the following video.
Source: University of Pittsburgh
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