The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) at the University of Pittsburgh have designed and built a waterproof wheelchair that is solely powered by compressed air. The new wheelchair, named the PneuChairTM, debuted last week at Morgan's Wonderland, a 25-acre theme park in San Antonio, Texas, that was built for individuals with disabilities. Morgan's Wonderland now has 10 PneuChairs for its Inspiration Island splash park, scheduled to open in the spring of 2017.
Battery powered wheelchairs work well, as long as the electronics are kept dry. The PneuChair's waterproof design makes it ideal for splash parks and other applications where the chair is likely to get wet. Rory Cooper, HERL director and distinguished professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at the University of Pittsburgh said “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative.”
Although it is not commercially available at this time, demand is high, with approximately four million wheelchair users in the United States alone. In addition to water parks and other wet applications, the quick recharge time makes the chair ideally suited for airports, nursing homes, grocery stores, malls and retail stores.
The PneuChair weighs only 80 pounds, about one-third the weight of battery powered chairs. The pneumatically powered chair can travel about three miles on a single charge, about one third the distance of electric chairs. While this may seem like a big trade-off, the PneuChair only takes 10 minutes to recharge, compared to eight hours for a battery operated device.
Carbon-fiber tanks, similar to scuba tanks, contain the air, which is compressed to 4,500 psi. The chair makes a slight hissing noise when in operation, and the air expended is breathable.
The PneuChair and pneumatically operated scooter, dubbed the PneuScooterTM, were designed in collaboration with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System's Public Affairs Office as part of their PneuMobility Project.