Wheelchairs usually demonstrate steely devotion to form-follows-function efficiency, but a recent contest invited designers to get fancy. On behalf of 14-year-old Massachusetts Steampunk fan Kyron Cheek, who has muscular dystrophy, entrants from around the world created tricked out wheelchair concepts embellished with knobs, gears and coils inspired inspired by Victorian era retro-tech.
GrabCAD/ModVic Steampunk Wheelchair Design Challenge winner Greg Hurley says, “The kid wants to draw people in and use the chair as a tool–‘Hey come check me out, I got personality. Come talk to me.’ It’s supposed to be an ice breaker and when I learned about that, my heart melted.” A Michigan packaging designer, Hurley used ZBrush and Keyshot software to render a photorealistic model that would incorporate Cheek’s plain-vanilla Quantum Q6 Edge wheelchair as its foundation.
New England Steampunk impresario Bruce Rosenbaum got rolling on the wheelchair initiative when file-sharing service GrabCAD contacted him after he did a Steampunk makeover of Cheek’s bedroom. “I’d been exploring the idea of building medical assistive devices such as Terminator-like’ prosthetics and Star Trek-like hearing aids,” Rosenbaum says. “With these tricked out Steampunk wheelchairs, the conversation changes from ‘How did you lose the use of your legs?’ to ‘Where did you get the cool chair!?’
Rosenbaum and his team plan to make two prototypes based on Hurley’s design. “This is a great opportunity to have Kyron be our ‘test pilot’ for the design and fabrication of a Steampunk Wheelchair,” he says. The second chair will be exhibited at Steampunk Springfield: Re-Imagining an Industrial City starting March 22, 2014.
Check out an international array of Steampunk wheelchair designs in the gallery above.