Approximately 65 million wheelchairs (WCs) are needed worldwide, and those in less-resourced environments (LREs), such as India, are faced with the difficult challenge of accessing devices that can provide functional mobility for an affordable price. Decades of evidence has revealed that transferring low-cost western-style manual WCs does not address the need because these devices are challenging to propel, fail prematurely in the sometimes extreme environments of LREs, and often cannot be repaired with indigenous tools and materials. Several organizations are mounting international efforts to address these shortcomings by designing appropriate manual WCs and establishing clinical and technical resources in LREs to meet the ongoing need. Unfortunately, these efforts have not addressed the needs of people who would benefit from electric powered wheelchairs (EPWs), and low-cost western style devices are beginning to crowd the market despite the fact they perform poorly, fail prematurely, and in some cases have been discontinued in the western markets. To avoid the pitfalls that occurred after transferring western-style manual WCs, an affordable EPW should be designed that can meet the needs of individuals living in LREs. To address this need, a multi-year effort has been completed which gathered ethnographic data and developed and evaluated a prototype of the Single Motor Propelled Wheelchair (SIMPL-WC) at the Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) in Kanpur, India and at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center (ISIC) in New Delhi, India.
The aim of the research proposed here is to finalize the development and testing of the SIMPL-WC and transfer the design to an EPW manufacturer in India for commercialization. Engineers at the Human Engineering Research Labs (HERL) who conceived of the SIMPL-WC will implement design changes based on feedback from Indian subjects and will transfer the design to ISIC and an Indian EPW manufacturer (Ostrich Mobility) will fabricate five SIMPL-WCs. Three of these devices will be tested according to International Wheelchair Standards (ISO 7176) at HERL, and potential users at ISIC will evaluate the remaining two. Design changes will be made based on results of the testing at HERL and ISIC, and Ostrich Mobility will then manufacture 13 of the updated SIMPL-WC. Three of these devices will undergo ISO testing at HERL and Indian users will use the remaining 10 for in-home trials in a study coordinated at ISIC. After these two iterations of ISO and human-subjects testing, Ostrich Mobility will commercialize the SIMPL-WC.
Despite the overwhelming need for powered mobility for people with disabilities in less-resourced environments like in India, existing designs are based on western-style designs and are frequently rejected because they are unaffordable or do not maneuver through the user's environment. Our goal is to finalize the research and development of a Single Motor Propelled Powered Wheelchair that is a low-cost, highly maneuverable, locally manufacturable, and will meet the clinical needs in all less-resourced environments.