Fourteen-year-old Kyron Cheek, who has muscular dystrophy, is a massive steampunk fan. Steampunk has been called “the science fiction of the steam age,” where Victorian style meets Star Trek in clothing, decor, jewelry—and wheelchairs.
After Kyron spent 16 days in critical condition when his lungs collapsed, the Make-A-Wish Foundation decided he was a candidate and asked him what he would like. He later told the foundation he survived and didn’t need a wish. According to his mom Angie, “It took about a year and a half to convince him that he deserved it, and we finally talked him into it by telling him this is making someone else happy.”
The ninth-grader didn’t have to think long about his wish—he wanted a steampunk bedroom. The request required Program Service Manager Lauren Cotter to give herself a crash course in just what steampunk is. This crash course came in the form of Bruce Rosenbaum, a volunteer for the organization who is also a rabid fan of the genre, a sub-genre of science fiction which combines Victorian sensibilities and aesthetics with steam-powered technology.
Bruce helped make Kyron’s dream come true, including a Victorian-inspired desk that lowers down into Kyron’s lap to allow him to game early in the mornings by himself.
But the story only begins with Kyron’s Make-a-Wish room. More recently, design company ModVic launched a contest to design a steampunk wheelchair for Kyron. ModVic specializes in repurposing items that can be combined with modern gadgets to create a steampunk-style aesthetic. The contest was born when GrabCAD contacted Bruce following his makeover of Kyron’s room.
“I’d been exploring the idea of building medical assistive devices such as ‘Terminator’-like prosthetics and Star Trek-like hearing aids,” Rosenbaum says. “With these tricked-out Steampunk wheelchairs, the conversation changes from ‘How did you lose the use of your legs?’ to ‘Where did you get the cool chair!?’
Wheelchairs are rarely stylish, emphasizing function over form, as most of the companies that produce the devices aren’t exactly aesthetic design companies, but they are concerned with helping people with disabilities regain mobility. However, with this contest, entries that jazzed up wheelchairs with all manner of Victorian steam-tech gizmos—gears, coils, knobs, custom paint jobs— came in from around the world.
The winner of the challenge, Greg Hurley, says, “The kid wants to draw people in and use the chair as a tool.’Hey, come check me out! I got personality. Come talk to me.’ It’s supposed to be an ice breaker, and when I learned about that, my heart melted.”
Hurley’s design, based on the Quantum Q6 Edge wheelchair, was created using 3D rendering software, and it’s now heading into the prototype stage, with two prototype devices planned. The eventual goal to move into mass production. One of the prototypes will be given to Kyron. “This is a great opportunity to have Kyron be our ‘test pilot’ for the design and fabrication of a steampunk wheelchair,” Bruce says.
Here’s a short video that shows the steampunk wheelchair from all angles. What’s your reaction to the steampunk wheelchair?