Martin Harris, a 21-year-old design student at the University of Derby in the UK, developed a prototype of a wheelchair that uses legs instead of wheels. The battery-powered “walking chair” was on display at the University’s Markeaton Street site as part of its 2011 Degree Shows program. Harris’ inspiration for developing the chair came from seeing the kinetic sculptures of Dutch artist and engineer Theo Jansen.
“I first saw Theo Jansen’s work many years ago, he calls the walking sculptures Strandbeests. The walking mechanism had so much potential and I wanted to put it to a practical purpose,” Harris said. Jansen makes sculptures from PVC piping that use wind power to move on their own along the beach.
“My final year project was to integrate the mechanism into a mobility chair. My uncle works on powered wheelchairs and my dad’s a mechanic, so they were able to give me some tips, and my brother assisted me in building and testing the prototype.”
Harris’ wheelchair prototype moves on twelve legs that are constructed of 216 separate pieces bolted together. The seat is adjustable and can accommodate all sizes. It moves at a maximum speed of four miles per hour and has a range of several miles on a single charge. It’s designed to provide more freedom of movement.
“Most motorized wheelchairs are optimized to work indoors or outdoors, not both,” said Harris. “The walking chair is compact enough for use indoors whilst also having the all-terrain ability to cross soft surfaces, such as sand or grass, which can prove difficult for wheeled chairs.”
Terry Watson, University Program Leader for the Product Design course, was impressed with Harris’ idea. “Our students are expected to think creatively and then use their technical skills to turn ideas into working products,” Watson said. “Martin has shown great ingenuity in taking an art design and seeing how it could be given a very different, practical purpose.”
“This design is a prototype,” explained Harris. “I’d be happy to see someone take up the concept and develop it further, for commercial use.”