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  • Alternative wheelchair drive mechanisms: development, operation and physical effort

    An estimated 1% of the Dutch population (some 160,000 people) use a wheelchair as their primary means of daily transport. The majority of wheelchairs are manually propelled, usually by turning the hand rims of the rear wheels. However, propelling a wheelchair by hand is an inefficient process with only a 2-11% yield and tires the upper body. Long-term use of these wheelchairs can cause shoulder and wrist problems, which can in turn lead to inactivity and all the health risks that this entails.

    One way of avoiding these problems, while also increasing the strength of users and the distances they can travel, is to improve their physical fitness and skills through training and teaching). Another approach is to improve the vehicle mechanics, ergonomics and models of wheelchairs. This particular project focuses on the wheelchair user interface, more specifically the choice of drive system when using the arms for propulsion (i.e. lever operation vs. cranks and hoops), and on making arm propulsion more efficient through motor learning and practice.

    The aim of the project:

    • To learn more about wheelchair users’ learning ability, ability to adjust, training capacity and ability to learn skills required to make the necessary cyclical arm movements for wheelchair use. In addition, to understand how the motor task develops over time when using a lever-operated wheelchair.
    • To gain insight into the optimum user interface for people propelling a wheelchair by lever operation in a straight line during ‘normal use’. To measure capacity, fatigue, comfort and mechanical exertion.
    • To develop a wheelchair ergometer for laboratory use in rehabilitation, disabled sports practice and for home use.


    Rim-propelled wheelchair

    Current manually propelled wheelchair