Taking the weight off wheelchairs

October 4, 2019 8:49 am
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Chairs through the ages

Wheelchairs are perhaps one of the most beneficial inventions with regard to boosting the well-being of others and improving the human condition. Whilst medicines such as penicillin have saved innumerable lives and helped countless others since its conception, the wheelchair is different, as it is a physical manifestation of humanity’s desire to adapt to the world around them and to aid those that are less capable of doing so. They have existed in some capacity for as long as records date, with the earliest unearthed rudimentary chair dating back further than the fourth century and throughout time the design has been adapted to utilise the tools and materials which existed within consecutive eras. Today they are feats of mechanical prowess and centuries of design innovation and ingenuity. For anyone looking for lightweight wheelchairs, they need look no further than those offered here at Karma Mobility, which have been honed and designed to meet the contemporary requirements of its users.

Design ingenuity

Whilst they have existed for as long as people have been needing them, modern wheelchairs, in the form that they would be recognised in today, initially began to take shape in 1750. This was when English inventor and engineer James Heath created his ‘Bath chair’ which was a revolutionary leap forward in the design of the chair as it was the first chair of its kind to feature two large wheels at the back, and two small wheels at the front. This design vastly boosted the manoeuvrability of the chairs and became the benchmark of how further designs and refinements would be based. Over the century to follow, the wheelchair was redesigned numerous times by various inventors and thinkers, each making slight changes, but retaining the Bath chair format with the wheels. The next most crucial point in the chair’s development did not come about until 1932 when American mechanical engineer and disabled person Harry C. Jennings created the first collapsible chair from tubular steel. Jennings’ wheelchair was not purely groundbreaking in that it was the first chair to be collapsable, which maximises its storage properties, but also by introducing tubular steel into the chair’s materials. This reduced the overall weight of the chair by a massive degree, and resulted in a continuous focus on making lightweight wheelchairs.

Rolling into the future

From Jennings’ chair onwards, there was an increased focus on reducing the overall weight of chairs, which was in part related to the emerging popularity of wheelchair sports, which were made possible by Jennings decreasing the overall weight of chairs. Today’s models are generally constructed from super lightweight materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre, as well as use of tubular steel. Lightweight wheelchairs of today can withstand an excess of 100 kg worth of pressure exerted onto them, whilst simultaneously weighting at less than 8 kg. This massive discrepancy between weight and strength of the chair could only come about after centuries of innovation and refinement. Also by making good use of emerging technologies such as 3D printers and digital rendering, scientists and engineers can continue to further the development of the wheelchair to afford its users new possibilities and the potential to reach previously unachievable heights.

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This post was written by Todd Rich

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