Switzerland-based EMPA Engineers recently collaborated with r going, a Swiss rehabilitation company, to design an ergonomic seat for electric wheelchair users that will provide a greater range of movement. Ergonomic chairs are designed to confirm to a person’s physical dimensions, allowing them to sit naturally and comfortably for long periods of time, while reducing the risk of pressure ulcers. This is a luxury many wheelchair users don’t have, according to r going founder and ergotherapist, Roger Hochstrasser.
Wheelchairs don’t have ergonomic seats, thus the user may become uncomfortable after hours of sitting in one. Hochstrasser came up with the idea of designing an ergonomic wheelchair seat to address this problem. He presented his idea to EMPA Engineer Bernard Weisse, with whom he previously worked. The two spent the next 18 months developing the first prototype of the seat in a project funded by the Swiss Confederation’s Commission for Technology and Innovation.
The ergonomic seat features a backrest constructed of movable joints and ribs to simulate the structure of the human torso. The seat rotates and tilts forwards and backwards, allowing the user to change positions as he or she chooses. Researchers from the Institute for Energy and Mobility of the Berne University of Applied Sciences designed the control console that enables an ergotherapist to program the backrest’s movements to allow a user’s sitting position to be changed in optimal fashion.
“Despite this, if anyone should ever feel uncomfortable they can adjust the settings themselves at any time to suit their individual needs,” Weiss explained.
EMPA conducted a test in which subjects at different body weights drove wheelchairs equipped with the new seats down various paths and roadways, as well as over ramps. Then the load capacity of the backrest was evaluated by taking a road trip–complete with a lot of curves–in a vehicle that transports persons with disabilities. Both sets of tests had satisfactory results.
There will be future clinical trials to determine if and to what extent the seat improves the lives of its users and to see if it is universally accepted by wheelchair users in general.