The Science Behind Paralympic Wheelchair Design

Wheelchair technology has come a long way, and it seems like each week there is something new in the works for the industry. From 3D printed wheelchairs and accessories to standing wheelchairs and more, there is no limit to the new innovations that can make wheelchairs more useful, affordable and easy to use.

And nothing brings out innovation in the industry more than the Paralympics.

New Designs for Athletes

Every four years, athletes from all over the world come together to show the world what they can do. In many sports, these athletes are sporting the latest wheelchair technology.

Not too long before the events started, the new BMW racing wheelchair was unveiled. It’s design was specifically made to help athletes maintain greater control over the chair at greater speeds (the chairs could travel up to 24 miles and hour).

Other wheelchair designs help athletes play basketball, rugby and a variety of other sports. Each design is different based on the needs of the athletes competing in each sport.

And after the Rio 2016 games are over, it’ll be back to the drawing board for wheelchair designers.

The Science Behind it All

In an interview with the New York Times, Mike Frogley, the director for Wheelchair Basketball Canada says that each wheelchair should be customized to players’ specifications, including:

  • Accounting for their size, weight and disability
  • Position of weights to promote stability and balance without sacrificing agility
  • Angle of the wheels to improve maneuverability and speed

There are also several modifications that include:

  • Stronger aluminum to augment strength and durability, without adding weight
  • Modified seats to generate power

The chairs can help improve an athlete’s performance and skillset, but they can’t make an inferior athlete better than a superior one.

Looking Forward to 2020

During the years between paralympic games, scientists analyze data to create new technical changes to the wheelchairs. Designing a new wheelchair is so technical and competitive that it has kind of become a competition within a competition, with each country’s design team trying to outdo one another.

In the end, we hope that this technology makes it into the mass market, where it can help every day wheelchair users as much as it helps athletes perform. Whether we are talking about the technology that goes into wheelchairs or accessible vans, anything that makes the end product more safe, less expensive and easier to use is better for the community.

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