The Scalevo wheelchair isn’t like other wheelchairs. It doesn’t only roll along. It also climbs and descends stairs using retractable scales. Most remarkable of all, though, is who developed it. It comes from a team of students who are barely into their twenties.
The nine-strong team are all bachelors students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and have been working on the design for about a year. They now have a fully-working prototype and look to have plenty of momentum on the way to executing a full product.
“We were very motivated because it’s not just a robot that does something. It has some capabilities and usage. It helps people. When we talk to people in wheelchairs, they really like the idea,” says Beni Winter, one of the students.
In rolling mode, the tracks sit above the chair’s wheels. But, at the press of button, the tracks come down and line up automatically with stairs.
“It measures the stairs with sensors, drives towards them and aligns. The only thing is that you have to give it speed,” Winter says. “If you let go of the joystick, it won’t drive–it’s a safety feature. The more speed you get, the faster it will go.”
In fact, the chair is not just good for stairs. It will negotiate most obstacles along the way, so that wheelchair users don’t have to ask for help if they get stuck.
Winter won’t say whether the team plans to develop a commercial product, but that seems like perhaps it is the plan. “The idea is kind of there,” he says.