Lingnan Entrepreneurship Initiative - Humanitarian Technology
Motorized wheelchairs allow users to travel greater distances from home and enhance safety over difficult terrains (e.g. hills and rocky roads). However, operating joysticks on powered wheelchairs can be challenging, if not impossible, for the elderly with deteriorating fine motor skills, people with Alzheimer’s, mental illnesses, or neuromuscular disorders, to name a few. Besides, it is a widespread phenomenon that the elderly are cared for by their elderly partner or descents who are also senior citizens. Pushing wheelchairs could be a huge daily burden to them.
As professional problem-solvers who empathize with issues associated with the aging society, the team was inspired by MIT's design method – Participatory Design. With an emphasis on "Design with Users", the team invited 10 elderly as co-designers to imagine solutions to how they might help ease caregivers’ burden on pushing wheelchairs in Hong Kong’s hill terrace. As a result, the team developed an intelligent assisted electric wheelchair as a solution.
CREW - For People On Board
CREW is a power-assisted wheelchair control system designed for caregivers. It aims to bring the benefits of powered wheelchairs to those who can’t control them independently.
CREW is designed with the idea that passengers and caregivers are members of one expedition team. Their comfort, safety, and joy are interdependent. Therefore, the control and safety features of CREW are designed to boost the expedition team’s confidence and sense of control, encouraging the team to lead fuller lives and go farther.
The team re-designed the handles of the wheelchairs to be pressure-sensitive so that the caregiver at the back of a wheelchair can push the wheelchair with assisted power using feedbacks from the caregiver’s hands. In this manner, the wheelchair can sense a forward-pushing or backward-dragging force of a caregiver to intelligently decide on its motions whether to move forward or apply breaks without a caregiver’s laborious effort to direct the wheelchair, especially in a hill terrace. CREW’s intuitive control and safety features (such as hill hold) allow the expedition team to explore with confidence.
A specially designed integrated force-sensing handles can detect the pressure of the caregiver's hands.
When going downhill, CREW produces counter torques to gradually slow down the wheelchair when the caregiver is not pushing.
A Control System Designed to Boost Confidence
- Strengthening Sense of Control: We feel confident when we know things are under control. CREW purposefully regulates pushing force and wheelchair speed in a perfect linear relation, so that caregivers can expect the same outcomes with the same push. This in turn increases caregivers’ confidence in the wheelchair and the expedition team.
- Energy Management – Regenerative Braking: The control system and motors assist with all aspects of pushing the wheelchair – accelerating and going uphill as well as stopping and going downhill. When accelerating or going uphill, the motors reduces the caregiver’s efforts, pushing the wheelchair forward. When stopping or going downhill, the motors help to slow the wheelchair through regenerative braking, alleviating the stress on the caregiver. The energy recovered is stored for later use, extending the wheelchair’s range.
- Comfortable, Ergonomic Handles: CREW provides a secure, comfortable grip through ergonomic handles, giving the confidence to journey farther.
- Straight-Line Assistance: Caregivers may push the wheelchair with only one hand for a brief period. CREW understands the caregiver’s intention and will move in a straight line at a lower speed.
The team’s goal is to manufacture this assisted electric wheelchair while keeping its cost accessible to more senior citizens in Hong Kong.
- Gold award in MUSE Design Award 2021 (Category: Conceptual Design)
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