Smart wheelchair can switch gears

U. ILLINOIS (US) — New wheelchair technology does the work for the user, automatically switching gears depending on the terrain.

More than 70 percent of manual wheelchair users in the US will develop shoulder pain due to arm movements needed to propel the chair.

The IntelliWheels AGS system is a lightweight automatic gear shifting mechanism, packaged as two wheels that can attach directly onto any manual wheelchair.

IntelliWheels recognize the movements of the wheelchair user and automatically choose the right gear. (Credit: U. Illinois)

Recognizing the movements of the user, it automatically chooses the right gear for going uphill, downhill, and across rough terrains by monitoring how fast the user is going and how hard they are pushing.

“After attending both my undergraduate as well as graduate school here, and seeing the miles and miles that make up this campus, I just figured there could be a more efficient way for manual wheelchair users to make it to where they need to go,” says Scott Daigle, a graduate student in engineering at the University of Illinois  and founder of IntelliWheels, Inc.

An automated system was crucial so the user wouldn’t have to expend any extra time or effort to change gears. The design is ideal for reducing load on the upper body while making gear shifting transparent to the user. Wheelchair users were consulted in developing the technology.

“It was important for us, when designing this product, to ensure it could be attached to any manual chair,” says Marissa Siebel, athletic trainer for the USA Paralympic teams and co-founder of IntelliWheels.

“After talking with users, we knew they wanted something that would allow them to keep using the chair they were comfortable with.”

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