Although some wheelchair users could conceivably make use of devices like the GoPad, a researcher at Purdue University has developed a motorized wheelchair tray that looks to be a better option for giving wheelchair users convenient access to mobile devices. Employing a motorized arm, the “RoboDesk” can deploy or retract a tablet or lightweight laptop computer as needed.

When not in use, the tray sits out of the way near the rear wheel, not adding any additional width to the chair. It also doesn’t affect the chair’s normal functions or impede the user’s ability to transfer in and out of the chair. Then, with the flick of a switch an arm swings out to position the tray in front of the wheelchair user’s lap. They can then manually adjust the tilt of the tray to suit their requirements, which also opens it up to more general use, such as a writing surface or meal tray.

The RoboDesk was developed by Brad Duerstock, an associate professor of engineering practice in Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, who hopes it will make it easier for wheelchair users to study so as to increase their employment opportunities.

"Only two percent of people working in the sciences age 35 or younger have a disability; however, people with disabilities represent 10.4 percent of the overall U.S. workforce," Duerstock says. "I believe we are losing a lot of talented people who could make a difference if they're given the tools and opportunities to succeed. I want to make it easier for them to actively participate in their educational endeavors."

With the goal of getting the RoboDesk licensed and manufactured in the next three years, Duerstock is currently working to make it compatible with various types of manual and electric wheelchairs.

The RoboDesk can be seen in action in the following video.