Architect designs Segway-inspired standing wheelchair to boost eye contact

The Londoner’s piston-powered invention takes inspiration from self-balancing e-transporters to raise users up so they can chat at eye level with other people – and get served at the bar

An architect used her design expertise and parts sourced from eBay to build an innovative piston-powered, self-balancing wheelchair helping disabled people to stand upright in one smooth movement.

Suzanne Brewer, from Blackheath, took inspiration from two-wheeled Segway transporters and mechanical standing desks to build the prototype, which has been piloted by therapists at Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s spinal injuries unit.

Mrs Brewer sought to develop the Walking Wheelchair to help users reach eye level with non-disabled people, for conversations or getting served at the bar.

It began as a summer project to entice her son, Jarvis, 13, from his games console and became a two-year mission working with accessibility design experts.

A lifting saddle seat simulates a natural standing motion, a gyroscope helps balance the user’s weight and two wheels instead of the current six on existing bulkier standing wheelchairs offer a tight turning circle.

Mrs Brewer and her son Jarvis with the joystick-controlled e-transporter (Suzanne Brewer)

The aim was to produce transport more like an e-scooter than a traditional disability device.

The joystick-controlled device focuses on helping users with genetic disabilities, spinal injury and elderly people who have trouble standing, by using a flat backboard, seatbelt and knee supports to hoist the body horizontally.

Mrs Brewer, 46, whose invention has been shortlisted in the product design category of the Dezeen Awards, said: “We’d noticed at the rugby club that a guy in a wheelchair had got lost in the crowd, because everyone was moving at eye level and he was lower down.

“When I started the design process I could tell that using bespoke-made parts were £50,000-plus, which was a budget I didn’t have.

“So we looked at buying parts off the internet and making our prototypes that way.

“Our main source was source was Amazon and eBay for parts such as a piston to lift the saddle seat and the seatbelt.”

But the design is currently “too fast” and Mrs Brewer is working to reduce speed to fit with 4mph of motorised wheelchairs under European law.

Engineer John McFarlane, a wheelchair user and Freeman of the City of London who advised Mrs Brewer, said: “It has the possibilities of opening up all sorts of social aspects and ways of doing things for people with very limiting injuries such as multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and spinal chord injuries with no power in their legs.

“It actually brings you back into a social conversation and assists in social inclusion.

“If you go into the pub and you’re standing at the bar, you can raise yourself up and look the person that you’re talking to in the eye, as opposed to what happens in many conversations when you’re sat in a wheelchair – everybody leans over the top of you, and you get claustrophobia.”

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