NuVu Studios student’s Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong designed their Wheelchair Hand Drive to allow users to easily propel themselves both forward and backward. (all images via Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong)
The standard wheelchair design hasn’t changed much over the last 80 or so years (although they date back to the 5th century BCE). Unless it’s electric, users propel themselves by pushing or pulling the wheels, however there are easier ways to move around while being chair-bound- hand drives.
These attach to the wheels and allow users to move by cranking on a bar, almost like rowing a boat or using a really big ratchet. While these have been around since the 90’s with NASA’s RowWheels and GoGrit’s Grit Freedom Chair, they tend to be on the expensive side (in some cases thousands of dollars), which can limit some users from owning them.
The hardware that makes up the Hand Drive is mostly 3D printed and open-source so anyone can download the design files and print their own.
Students from Cambridge’s NuVu Studios have designed a unique Hand Drive that is almost entirely 3D printed and costs a fraction of those more costly units at a cost of $40. The device works by using several ratchet mechanisms and a stacked gear system that allow the user to move forward. Shifting the ratchets allows for reverse movement on the fly.
I was able to interview the team, Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong, who developed the Hand Drive and wondered where the inspiration came from in designing their system. “Our challenge for this project was to hack the wheelchair for urbanity. We live in a fast pace world and we noticed that the wheelchair hasn’t evolved much over the years.”
They go on to say, “We originally wanted to create the hand drive to make a wheelchair faster, but after doing research we found that a lever-powered wheelchair would also allow people to use different muscle groups while powering a wheelchair, which would help them stay healthier.” The team knew that the concept of using a hand drive isn’t new, they just set out to reinvent it- “Our approach was to create a lever-powered wheelchair that can go both forwards and backwards, can snap on and off of the wheelchair easily, but most of all, is entirely 3D printable and completely open source. This means anyone can download our files and print their own lever-powered
wheelchair for around $20.”
Kate Reed briefs President Obama on the Hand Drive during a recent visit to the White House.
The team designed their Drive using Autodesk’s Fusion 360 CAD software and printed out the parts using a 3D printer. “90% of the Wheelchair Hand Drive is 3D printed and printed on a Maker Gear. The other 10% consists of everyday hardware; an aluminum pole from Home Depot, five bicycle knarps, two mountain bike cables, a mountain bike brake, and two springs.”
They go on to state, “We want the entire Wheelchair Hand Drive to be accessible to everyone,
so we tried to use basic parts that you can find at a bike shop or hardware store. We used many bike parts because they are cheap, very sturdy, and because they too are meant to pull a lot of weight.”
The White House noticed their design and the team were subsequently invited to the 5th White House Science Fair to share their Drive with President Obama. Over 100 students attended the science fair, which was STEM-based and also had a specific focus on girls and women who are excelling in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Thanks again Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong, for speaking with me!
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