A solar-powered wheelchair designed by students at the University of Virginia has won first prize in a competition, Change My Life in One Minute, to mark World Cerebral Palsy Day. Entrants to the competition were asked to come up with an innovation that could make a significant difference to a person with a disability. The solar-powered wheelchair can run continuously powered only by the sun.

Apparently inspired by the folding roofs of convertible cars, students fitted a wheelchair with a custom-built 1-sq m (11-sq ft) solar panel which the team of students claims allows the wheelchair to travel indefinitely at 1 mph without drawing power from the battery.

At 5 mph, the wheelchair can run for 4.5 hours, which the students say is a range increase of 40 percent. They also point out that the panel brings the added benefit of providing shade to the user. The wheelchair is also fitted with USB ports for the charging of electronic newfangledom.

The team takes away a prize of US$20,000 which the team will use to perfect the chair, before shipping to Alper Sirvan in Turkey, who came up with the suggestion for the project. Any remaining prize money will be returned to United Cerebral Palsy.

In November 2010, inventor Haidar Taleb set out to cross the United Arab Emirates in a solar-powered wheelchair over the course of 11 days.

There's more technical info on the University of Virginia's wheelchair in the video below.

Source: University of Virginia