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New wheelchair seat gets users to regularly change their position


January 16, 2012

A back view of the ribs and joints incorporated into the seat's backrest

A back view of the ribs and joints incorporated into the seat's backrest

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As anyone who spends a lot of time seated at a desk will know, it's important to change your position every now and then. For wheelchair users, who spend almost every waking moment seated, it is crucial that they do so - if they don't, they can develop deformities or bedsores, or at least end up in considerable pain. Now, the Swiss research group Empa is working with the ergonomics company r going, to develop a new type of wheelchair seat that periodically causes users to change the way they're sitting.

The prototype seat has an articulated backrest, made up of ribs and joints that can be moved via a motorized system, to match the user's body contours. The backrest as a whole can also be tilted up to 22 degrees forward and 40 degrees backwards, while the seat bottom can be horizontally rotated 30 degrees in both directions.

The adjustment mechanism's motor runs off of the same battery used to power the wheelchair itself.

A pressure mat on the seat detects where the user's highest points of pressure are located, in any one position. Using a control console, a therapist can then program the movements of the ribs, along with the angles of the backrest and bottom, to cause the user to change their position throughout the day. If done correctly, this will result in their shifting to other pressure points, giving the previous ones a break. Should one of their new positions prove uncomfortable, however, users can still readjust the seat themselves.

So far, a wheelchair equipped with the new seat has been tested by people of various weights on the Empa grounds, and on a trip in a taxi designed for the disabled. Further tests are planned to determine how much the shifting of pressure points actually helps users, and whether or not full-time users will accept the seat.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
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