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A Solar Powered Wheelchair – What Next?

We have previously reported on solar panels on top of carports in public car parks in the USA and on the top of ambulances here in the UK but now we have heard about a solar powered wheelchair being designed.

Surely this gentleman would welcome using a solar powered wheelchair?
(image credit: Brad & Ying)

In fact, the retractable panelled wheelchair was designed by some students at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science in the USA. In fact, the wheelchair was entered into a competition called “ Change My World In One Minute” for this year’s World Cerebral Palsy Day and has come first winning $20,000 for which the design team are to be commended.

There are 17 million people in the world who have cerebral palsy that is a disability affecting movement in the body of varying degrees.

In the main, the wheelchair was constructed at the National Institute of Aerospace’s Research and Innovation Laboratories Facility in Hampton with the idea coming from the design features seen on the roofs of convertible cars that retract. The wheelchair has been built using lightweight materials but that are still very strong. In addition, extremely efficient solar cells and custom made solar panels have been used. The solar panels take up an area of about one square meter but do not significantly add to the dimensions or weight of the wheelchair.

It has to be said that the performance of the wheelchair is most impressive. When travelling at a commendable speed of 5mph it can run for in excess of 4 and ½ hours when the battery is fully charged. What is interesting is that the solar panels have increased the range by over 40% when compared to a wheelchair operating just off the battery as opposed to this one that is “topped up” via the solar panels. What is also fascinating is that if the wheelchair was just powered by the solar panels without any involvement of the battery it could operate constantly at a speed of 1 mph.

The wheelchair operates using one switch so is easy to control and it has all the usual features such as an adjustable seat, armrest, footrest and a seatbelt. In also comes with USB power outlets enabling things like mobile phones and tablet computers to be charged up. The solar panel cover is ideal to keep off the rain and the sun.

Will this solar powered wheelchair be produced commercially?

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