The four-wheel drive hybrid wheelchair
By Mike Hanlon
April 19, 2006
April 20, 2006 Technology is beginning to yield many new and wonderous devices to make life better, safer and more fun, but few can compare to the life-enhancement offered by a new wheelchair which offers mobility-impaired and aged people an unprecedented level of freedom. It is comfortable, all-terrain and safe - a four-wheel drive wheelchair with hybrid motor and electronic assistance system has the immense potential to enable the physically disabled live more independent lives, to enable Octagenarians to bushwalk, and paraplegics . The innovative system even checks pulse rate and blood values and calls for help in emergencies.
"This technology offers wheelchair users a level of freedom previously unavailable," says Prof. Jürgen Wernstedt of the systems engineering applications center of the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB, who together with Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH developed the novel assistance system. "Our test driver, a multiple sclerosis patient who has been wheelchair-bound for many years, was enthused. For the first time in a long time, he was able to visit the Thüringer Forest with his family without having to rely on outside help."
Superfourin, as it's called, looks like a small all-terrain vehicle with wide, deep-treaded tires, four-wheel drive and roll bar. The robust wheelchair is not shy when it comes to traversing gravel, rocky or snow-covered paths. And with a high-performance hybrid motor, Superfourin can negotiate inclines of up to 40 percent without even breathing hard. The vehicle was designed and built by engineers at Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH.
Researchers from the ITTB developed the electronic monitoring and emergency call system, which successfully underwent testing in the rugged conditions of the Thüringer Forest.
For the physically disabled, the new technology means not only independence, but security. The vehicle is equipped with a GPS system that continuously transmits its position to a control center, where a digital map shows its exact location. A display provides up-to-date technical information such as the fuel and battery levels, incline of the axles and the two or four-wheel drive setting. Vital parameters such as pulse rate and blood oxygen content can also be superimposed on the display.
In emergency situations such as when the wheels are locked, the wheelchair flips over or if the patient's pulse suddenly begins to race, the system automatically sends out an alarm. "The system is even designed to enable individual drivers to monitor an entire fleet of wheelchairs," explains Dr. Andreas Wenzel of the IITB. "The technology creates the basis for offering new services such as a Superfourin rental service," adds Wernstedt. "This opens up a new market targeted towards the physically disabled and their families. With its versatility, the all-terrain wheelchair can drive over snow-covered mountains, mud flats and sand dunes."