Monday, November 30, 2009

DORA Robotic Arm

Students at the University of Massachusetts have developed a low-cost robotic arm that is capable of opening doors for wheelchair users. The special grippers on the robot arm that they have created can calculate the amount of force needed to open and unlatch the door. How well does this arm work? They have tested it on 14 different types of door handles with a success rate of 85 percent with pushing the door and 65 percent with pulling the door, which is amazing considering that this arm uses a single motor and no elaborate cameras or sensors. With a build cost of $2000, this is an impressive achievement compared to more expensive robotic arms that are currently available. Let us hope that these students can develop and refine this arm for consumer use.

For more information, check out this link.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Why Lithium Ion Batteries Are Not Used On Powerchairs... Yet

What do most laptops, cellphones, and some electric cars have in common? They all use lithium ion batteries. They are the latest and greatest in battery technology and can store twice as much energy for 33% less weight and last much longer than the conventional lead-acid batteries used in many powerchairs. So why aren't they used in chairs right now, you ask?

The big issues with lithium ion batteries are the testing, compatibility, and the costs. Testing these batteries for wheelchairs is ongoing since medical devices, such as wheelchairs, are subjected to much higher standards than in other applications. Reliability and safety (remember when millions of laptop batteries had to be recalled back a few years ago?) are crucial so testing to ensure that these batteries will not catch fire is important.

Compatibility is also an issue with most current wheelchair electronics since they have not been designed to handle the voltage and charging characteristics of lithium ion batteries. If lithium ion batteries are simply placed in most existing power wheelchairs, issues arise, from as simple as an inaccurate battery gauge reading, to as disconcerting as overheated connections. Therefore, power wheelchair electronics aren't yet designed to accept them predictably, and simply plugging in a set of lithium ion batteries into an existing power wheelchair proves problematic. Therefore, power wheelchair electronics need to be enhanced for compatibility with lithium-derived battery technology.

The final issue is cost. A set of lithium batteries that are similar in size to standard lead-acid batteries cost about $3500. When the lead-acid sets costs about $400, consumers and insurance companies are going to go for the cheaper option, despite the advantages that lithium ion can offer. Consumers struggle to fund basic mobility products – and often have to fight insurers for it – so $3,500 for batteries is simply out of consideration for most.

At least developing and refining battery technology is one of the biggest global technology trends, where environmental concerns are pushing towards better, safer, and cheaper batteries for all sorts of applications, including wheelchairs. In time, we will have new batteries in wheelchairs that will not only be safer and environmentally friendly, but allow us greater freedom and range to get us around. It is only a matter of time.

Monday, November 23, 2009

iPhone Users: Your Wheelchair App is Coming

Dynamic Controls is readying an iPhone/iPod Touch app that will cater to wheelchair users. Need to know how fast you are going? Need a compass to know the direction you are heading? Need to troubleshoot a diagnostic issue with your chair? This app has it. It will even tell you the battery level of the chair, if you need it. The developers are also working to have it connect to a chair's ECU so you can control your appliances or even check the IR or Wi-Fi status of the appliances you are controlling. Control of your wheelchair could even be possible through this app. Cool, huh?

This is set to be released for iPhone 3G, 3GS, and iPod Touch v2.0 and 3.0 by April 2010.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 is the only independent and completely free power wheelchair provider matching engine. Their goal is to match each visitor to the site with the best power wheelchair for their specific needs. The service is entirely free and thousands of satisfied customers can attest to the speed, diligence and knowledge of the mobility team. They only work with trusted providers to ensure that if the client qualifies he will receive a no or low cost power wheelchair delivered to their door!

Their service starts with the client. The focus is on providing the best experience for the client as they start the process of getting a mobility device. Most of the people who come to the site are individuals who have never had a wheelchair before and have only recently realized they need one either due to an injury, age or health issues. This can be a difficult time and WheelchairForMe want this process to be as smooth as possible for them. WheelchairForMe primary function is to match an individual who comes to to a trusted wheelchair provider that can match their unique needs. They have a database of trusted wheelchair provider partners who they have worked with and know are high quality companies with a strong customer service and performance record. WheelchairForMe looks at each visitor’s needs and match them with one of these partners who service their area.

During the process of matching the client with one of WheelchairForMe’s trusted partners, WheelchairForMe also strives to make them an informed consumer. They want to make sure visitors to the WheelchairForMe’s site understand their rights under federal, state or private insurance. They also want to make sure they understand they are not getting a “free” wheelchair. In the optimal case, one of the matched providers will get a client a power wheelchair that is completely paid for by their insurance. This means the client has no out of pocket expenses, but someone is still paying for the power wheelchair – the insurance company, or technically the taxpayers through a government program. WheelchairForMe’s goal is for all of their clients to get this optimal situation, but the truth of the matter is not everyone has the right insurance to achieve this. WheelchairForMe makes sure their clients understand this and understand that in some cases they may need to pay for a portion of their wheelchair.

On top of understanding the wheelchair acquisition process, WheelchairForMe has a number of resources on our site ranging from their user forum, their blog, articles on mobility topics, wheelchair reviews and a FAQ section that are all frequently updated and added to. Many of WheelchairForMe’s clients continue to come back and visit us for the information on their site long after they have received their wheelchair.

WheelchairForMe’s service and the information on their site is completely free. There is no charge from to visitors and individuals who use their matching technology to find the right wheelchair provider for them. WheelchairForMe continually works to improve their services and their information resources to better serve their clients. Check out their site

Monday, November 16, 2009

Latest Episode of Fox's Glee Focuses On Artie

This is the latest episode of Fox's newer shows, Glee. This is a show that tends to celebrate diversity and the underdog, such as in the case for this episode. Artie is one of the members of the Glee club who happens to be a wheelchair user. I do not wish to go into the details of the episode since I do not want to spoil it for anyone, but let me just say that it is worth it to watch and see what happens. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Wheelchair Backflip: Explained

I happen to catch myself watching the clip of Aaron Fotheringham's backflip every once in awhile and, every single time, I keep asking myself how he managed to do it. Apparently, I am not the only one to ask. asked Aaron the same question and he was more than happy to explain.

He started out by practicing using foam cushions to land on. After several (more like 50-60) attempts with cushions, Aaron then tried it on rezi, a hard plastic surface with a cushioned backing. After getting comfortable performing the trick on rezi, the only thing left to do was to try it on concrete. And the rest is history. The key to the backflip is to buildup and maintain the right speed to do it without causing you to over-rotate.

What is the next trick up Aaron's sleeve? Can we say 1080 spin? Double backflip?

Check out the site for the full article.

Monday, November 9, 2009

VPG's MV-1 Ready For Taxi Duty In 2010

Take a good look at this car here because you will likely be seeing them all over the place next year. Vehicle Production Group (VPG) is readying production of their new vehicle, the MV-1 for 2010. Originally conceived as a low-cost and wheelchair accessible replacement for taxis, VPG is expanding its role as a transporter for any commercial company. It has been designed from inception to be accessible, with a 36" wide ramp and a height of 56"with an in-floor ramp that can be adjusted to two different lengths to ease entry and exit for the wheelchair user. The vehicle can transport up to 6 people, with 2 of them being wheelchair users, and more than double the cargo space of a typical taxi. Lock down of the wheelchairs is done with standard tie-downs and can be positioned to the driver's preferences to secure nearly every existing wheelchair or scooter. Drivers will like the fact that it is designed to be easily maintained and driven and even has the option to run on Compressed Natural Gas, making this car one of the first "green" wheelchair-accessible vehicles. For more information, check out VPG's site here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Prosthetics Are Not Just For People...

While nearly all of the posts on this blog have been for people, animals are not immune to the issues that people also face. This is an inspirational story of Winter the Dolphin, a 3-month-old bottlenose dolphin found off the Florida coast with her tail caught in a crab trap. She was taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she received around-the-clock care. Handlers moved her through the water because she was too weak to swim on her own.

The net had badly damaged her tail, and as the days went by, pieces of it began falling off. In spite of the staff’s best efforts, her tail had to be amputated. But this was one dolphin who wasn’t going to give up. Winter learned to swim in a side-to-side motion like an alligator or shark. She could breathe and eat and move herself around. But her keepers were worried that the movements she had to make would eventually damage her spine. Enter prosthetic specialist Kevin Carroll of Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc.

Carroll, who travels the world tackling the most difficult human cases, had called the aquarium to offer his services. A cast was made of Winter’s residual limb, and Carroll created a latex tail prosthesis for the dolphin. And even though she had only spent three months swimming with a tail as a baby, Winter was able to relearn the normal motions of her species and fully recover.

That was four years ago. Today, the dolphin wears a less cumbersome, updated version of her artificial flukes. Hundreds of amputees have visited her in Florida, where she resides at the aquarium, and the innovations that allowed her to regain natural movement in the water have been used to improve human prosthetics.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mobile Office Work Station With High Seating Position

Check out this mobile work station meant for those who never want to leave their desk... or for those who have a hard time using standard height chairs. It is completely mobile and appears to be fairly lightweight making it easy to move about. There is also a version with two seats so you and a friend can move about together. To see more images and to order one of these work stations, check out this site.