According to the Wheelchair Foundation, between 100 and 150 million people around the world need wheelchairs. The number of disabled people who actually have one represents a tiny fraction of that need. Numerous factors contribute to this, not least of them being the cost of acquiring a chair and the ability to deploy them in many areas where need is particularly great.
But another factor is simply that wheelchairs as conventionally designed are built to handle only the most benign terrain. A few years ago, we mentioned Ralf Hotchkiss' work designing wheelchairs for the developing world that would be cheap, versatile and easy to repair. At a recent conference for advancements in mobile design, another designer unveiled a wheelchair made for easy maneuverability over rough surfaces and through narrow passageways.
Mike Spindle created his Trekinetic K2 to use three mountain bike tires -- two large and one small as a rear support. According to the BBC:
The wheels have an easily adjustable camber so that the chair can have a slimmer profile for going through doorways and a wider - and more stable - 24 degree camber for outdoor activities. The wheel tilt can be easily altered by rotating a cross shaft underneath the seat: at its slimmest, the K2 is 710mm wide and when fully adjusted it broadens out to 870mm.
The chair also has a sculpted carbon fiber seat, for better contouring to the user's body. It's lightweight, folds up in a matter of seconds, and comes with an umbrella for weather protection. The BBC article does not indicate whether the designer has intentions to keep the cost within reach for those in poorer areas of the world, but given that at this stage, the chairs are being produced at a rate of 10 per week in Middlesex, my suspicion is that cost savings aren't presently a priority. Perhaps down the line the innovative design can be paired with an affordable model for the developing world.