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Rowheel System for wheelchairs translates reverse into forward motion


October 6, 2010

The Rowheel System

The Rowheel System

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Traditional manually powered wheelchairs require the occupant to turn the chair’s rear wheels with a pushing action. This places a lot of stress on muscles that aren’t really designed to be used in this way, resulting in everything from repetitive stress injuries and muscle pain to torn rotor cuffs, joint degeneration and carpal tunnel syndrome. To combat this, Salim Nasser of Merritt Island, Florida, has taken a backward approach and developed the Rowheel System, which allows a pulling motion to translate into forward motion of a wheelchair. This transfers loads and stresses usually placed on weaker shoulder and arm muscles onto more capable muscles in the upper back, shoulders and arms to reduce the chance of injury and give the user an overall increase in endurance and range.

The Rowheel system, so named because of the rowing motion employed by its users, looks similar to existing manual wheelchair wheels and can be mounted onto any standard manual wheelchair without modification to the existing wheelchair frame. It can also be easily removed or docked through a universal docking axle to allow the user to quickly disassemble the wheelchair for portability.

The key to its design is a planetary gear system at the center of the wheel that reverses the pulling motion of the user into a forward motion of the chair. The user pulls a standard rim, which is connected to the sun gear of the planetary system. This engages the planet gears (the planet carrier motion is fixed to the chair frame), which in turn engage a ring gear that is fixed to the hub that is fixed to the wheel via spokes. Large bore, small cross-section bearings fixed on to the inner and outer hub plates, allow relative motion between these plates and the inner and outer hub casings to occur.

Nasser, who is himself wheelchair-bound, originally designed the system as his senior design project while attending Florida International University (FIU), with the original design taking four and a half months from concept to prototype. He says its construction involved relatively simple manufacturing with the prototype’s tires, rims, spokes and bearing purchased from third-parties, while the gears and hubs were cut in-house. He says a commercial version would use an all-in-one carbon fiber outer hub/spoke/wheel rim for decreased weight, ease of assembly and visual appeal.

The Rowheel System was named the winning entry in the Create the Future Design Contest that attracted nearly 1,000 product ideas from engineers and students in 51 countries. In taking out the grand prize, Nasser, who is currently an engineer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center where he performs structural and dynamic analysis for flight hardware and ground support equipment, will take home US$20,000.

Via Medgadget

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

This kind of ablication engineering is so f*^%ing cool. This guy saw a need and he figured out a way to do it using the tools of modern design. I love that process! Good Job Dude!

Paul Anthony

I meant to also write that I wonder how strange it would be to have to think and move backward. Suddenly forward motion is reverse and vice versa. Probably would be extremely frustating at first and then, woo hoo, watch out!

Paul Anthony

If you think about it, there are probably a lot of small, weak muscles and joints involved in the process of pulling that won\'t do well in the long run, either. I imagine it would be a lot like having to carry your luggage through an airport all day long, every day. The smaller a muscle is, the faster it will fatigue and become hard to control.

Also, there will be segments of the disabled community that just won\'t be able to use this system at all. People who cannot control grasp, and people who lack hands altogether will be left out, although they will still be able to use conventional wheelchairs.

Timothy Neill

Hope this helps many people and help others think of other ways to improve wheel chairs. I have seen in museums chairs that had hand operated pedel and chain drive why do these no longer seem popular?

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