Scalevo Wheelchair
Students from Zurich, Switzerland have developed an electric wheelchair that can climb most types of stairs to help disabled patients across the world. Image from Scalevo

Students from Zurich, Switzerland, have developed an electric wheelchair capable of climbing stairs. The “Scalevo Wheelchair”, which was designed to ascend one stair per second by students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and the Zurich University of the Arts, could potentially improve the daily lives of disabled people around the world.

The new wheelchair works on flat ground with two wheels like a Segway, which can turn immediately on the spot to change direction. In addition, the developers built two rubber tracks on the bottom of the chair beside the wheels, which can be released to climb stairs.

When climbing, the Scalevo mounts the stairs backwards, with the tracks built with rubber grips that can hook onto the steps to drive the chair upwards. “We have two rubber tracks which we can extend to the angle of the stairs and let the wheelchair be always upright on every angle on the stairs," said Carlos Gomes from ETH Zurich.

While travelling backwards, a small video device is built on the wheelchair’s arm for the user to see their track behind. The system works with a button that the user can press anytime to change the functions of the Scalevo, depending on the situation.

"The great thing is that everything on this wheelchair is automated," Miro Voellmy, one of the developers, told Reuters. "If I want to climb the stairs I can just drive up to them, turn around, press one button and all I have to do is control the velocity I want to drive at.”

The rubber tracks will make the user entirely safe, even when climbing uneven or cracked stairs, the developers said. The tracks have a “large footprint” that makes the wheelchair nearly impossible to tilt, “so it doesn't matter if the stair is wooden or metal or glass, the tracks they grip and there's no danger of slipping," Voellmy added.

The students said that the technology will allow patients to avoid access ramps and in-house stair lifts that a typical, manual wheelchair requires. If it becomes available on the market, the designers said that the Scalevo Wheelchair would not cost more than traditional wheelchairs.

The electric wheelchair has been tested on most types of staircases, including a spiral staircase, and has been able to climb “almost every stair,” Gomes said. Reuters reported that the students will take the Scalevo Wheelchair to the 2016 Cybathlon, a competition for disabled pilots using advanced assistive devices, organised by the ETH Zurich.

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