Freedom on wheels

A new wheelchair offers unbelievable manoeuvrability to the handicapped

Published: Sunday 15 February 1998

soon, people restricted to wheelchairs will be able to enjoy freedom. Freedom not only from strenuous physical effort and constant dependence on caretakers, but freedom of motion and manoeuvrability as well. A revolutionary new omnidirectional wheelchair based on technology developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ornl) , Tennessee, usa, will offer a range of movement beyond the scope of the conventional wheelchairs.

Called the TransRovr (transportable roving omnidirectional vehicle replacement) and developed by Florida-based CyberTrax Innovative Technologies, the wheelchair uses algorithms and engineering technologies patented by ornl for its amazing manoeuvrability. The invention at the heart of the chair, the omnidirectional holonomic platform (ohp), evolved from a project to develop mobile robots for hazardous environments and was the 1993 r & d 100 award winner.

The base of the light weight, portable, battery-powered wheelchair is a platform which is propelled, not by wheels but by three freely-rotating spherical casters that steer around a vertical axis. The enhanced horizontal motion capabilities of the TransRovr allow unrestricted, resistance-free, 360 movement. It can spin in circles, move sideways or at any angle without turning and can also change directions without stopping. Because of the freely-rotating casters, steering does not depend on the front wheels as in conventional wheelchairs. According to the developers, TransRovr's manoeuvrability will definitely eliminate the wasted motion and power consumption resulting in other automatic and manual chairs. They say that the cost of the TransRovr will be comparable to that of the conventional automatic chairs, freeing users from their limitations and eventually making these obsolete (Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review, Vol 30, No 1 & 2).

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