Nasser, a NASA engineer, inventor and quadriplegic, has created a wheel that could dramatically reduce how much energy a wheelchair user expends moving his or her chair forward. Now Rowheels, the company he cofounded in 2012, hopes to bring the wheel to market later this year. If successful, it should mean more efficient mobility and healthier bodies for users, Nasser says.
Standard manual wheelchairs require users to grasp and push a rim that extends from the chair's back wheels. It's a decent enough method for self-propulsion, but it taxes small, weak muscles in the shoulders and arms and can lead to repetitive stress injuries.
Nasser's wheel helps target bigger muscles. How it works: Using a mechanical device called a planetary gear, Nasser redesigned the wheel hub so that users pull it backwards in a rowing motion to go forward. Planetary gears are used in automatic transmissions and power tools to reverse and reduce motion, but no wheelchair wheels on the market currently use this design, Nasser says.
Jackie Justus, a spinal cord nursing educator at Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee, says a rowing motion for wheelchair users would be a "big step forward and save them a lot of wear and tear." She has been working independently for the past two years with an engineering team to redesign the wheelchair.
Pulling, she says, uses larger stronger muscle groups, while pushing a wheelchair uses little muscles in the front of the body and also hunches over the upper body. The rowing motion makes wheelchair users sit up straight, she says, allowing the diaphragm to function properly and significantly improve breathing.
Nasser is a native of Colombia who now lives near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. His day job is designing and analyzing equipment for mobile launchers used to assist space shuttles. He led a relatively normal life until age 20 when a drunk ran a stop sign and smashed into Nasser's car. "Three vertebrae were broken and I was paralyzed from the chest down," Nasser says. "Initially, I couldn't move anything."
After the accident, he moved to Miami to recover. "Within a year, I regained a bit of shoulder and arm strength, but it was a slow process," he says.
An inventor at heart, Nasser began working on a new kind of wheelchair wheel in college. "It was an idea for a senior design project nearly seven years ago," Nasser says. "I came up with the idea and worked on it with a group to refine it and build the prototype. Then it just sat there."
In 2010, Nasser dusted off his plan and entered a NASA Tech Briefs "Create the Future" competition.
"I redesigned it to be more ergonomic and lighter," Nasser says. "And much to my surprise, I won. I'd always wanted to make something out of it, but I wasn't doing anything with the idea."
Following his win, he began getting calls from companies that wanted to manufacture his wheel. But nothing clicked.
Then, while checking his spam folder in October of 2011, he noticed a message from Rimas Buinevicius, an entrepreneur in Madison, Wisconsin.
Buinevicius, who led a software company called Sonic Foundry for nearly two decades, had spent eight weeks in a manual wheelchair after breaking a leg. During that time, he said his shoulders and arms hurt from pushing his manual wheelchair wheels forward.
"When I read about what Salim had invented, I wanted to contact him because I knew--from my own experience--that there was a need for a better wheelchair wheel design," says Buinevicius, who runs "Madcelreator," a company that helps early stage firms bring their ideas to market.
"I was initially looking at trying to buy a set of these wheels as a consumer," Buinevicius says. Then he realized he could do a lot more with Nasser's idea.
"I figured it could help a lot of people--some 1.8 million folks use manual wheelchairs in the U.S.--so there's a big market out there for these wheels," Buinevicius says. "Over time, damage to shoulders means a lot of pain and ending up in a motorized chair, which most people want to avoid."
After talking with Buenevicius, Nasser says he "got quite excited and redesigned the wheel completely to further reduce the likelihood of people suffering from repetitive stress syndrome while using the wheel.
"I figured out that if a typical user pushes 2,000 to 3,000 times a day, on average, my redesign came out to 330,050 less strokes a year," Nasser says.
Buinevicius--who is now the chief executive officer at Rowheels--flew to Florida. The pair hit it off and cofounded Rowheels in 2012. Next, as Nasser continued to improve the wheel design, they entered and won the Grand Prize in the Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest in June of 2012.
Recently, Rowheels showed off the beta design of the wheel at MedTrade, a big medical conference in Atlanta; and the International Seating Symposium in Nashville. Nasser is also working with Georgia Tech's RERC/Wheeled Mobility lab and the Shepherd Center, a hospital in Atlanta that specializes in treatment, research and rehabilitation of people with spinal cord and brain injuries, to improve the wheels. Though the cost hasn't been determined yet, Buinevicius estimated that a set of wheels will cost between $2,000 and $3,000.
"We vetted the product last month with over 100 researchers, therapists and end users in Nashville," Buinevicius says. "There, the attendees were able to try the product firsthand and we received very favorable responses. We are still doing our own internal testing and using select groups of users. Independent tests will start soon." If all goes well, Buinevicius says they hope Rowheels will be on the market by later this year, "using a combination of third party manufacturers, suppliers and our own people to manufacture and distribute the product."
Here is a link to a video of the wheel chair.
I do hope this makes those in need, life better!
Add a few sprockets and they'll be passing you in the fast lane on the interstate. Going forward in reverse.
While I appreciate the creative efforts of Mr. Nasser to design a better wheelchair, I don't fully accept the claim that it is a big improvement. With any human powered vehicle, it has long been known that it is more efficient to design it to take advantage of larger muscles.
It is also well known that to take full advantage of person's work effort the device must provide some method for the body to brace itself when the muscle force is applied. Ideally, the brace feature would also be passive and would require no input effort on the part of the user. The vertical seat back of the wheelchair is a good example of this principle when the arms are used to push forward against the wheels.
Of course, any human powered vehicle system will always have a fundamental limit on the ability of the user to input power. This limit is often the capability of the weakest muscle group, and in this case it would be the ability of the hands to grasp the wheel rims. So rather than the concept described, which still requires the hands to grasp the rims in order to drive the wheels, I would propose using a ratcheting lever system to turn the wheels. The ratcheting lever mechanism would allow the user to apply full arm muscle force on the levers without having to grip them tightly with their hands.
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If you, like me, immediately searched for Mr. Buinevicius' company , you discovered the name in the article is a typo. The company is actually "madcelerator" and has a web site at www.madcelerator.com
riff-raff, what you accept or reject is of no consequence as long as you overlook the obvious. Since the wheels use planetary gearing, the amount of grip required is greatly reduced as is effort for the same amount of forward movement.
I searched for a conveyance of your specified design and could find none - not even in the proverbial pipeline. When that happens, it's usually because the design is impractical.
If the bracing requirement mentioned by riff-raff becomes indeed necessary for some, perhaps a shoulder belt, just like in cars, might provide the answer.
pscizy, the bracing that riff_raff is concerned about is best addressed by the use of a power wheel chair. Todays conventional wheelchairs are not a 'one-size fits all' design. Then, again, his lever actuated drive system has its limitations, too.
While I do not use a wheelchair today, I spent more than enough time in one recovering from a staph infection following a total knee replacement 1989 to 1993. The terrain was hills, surrounded by more hills which had their own set of hills. A simple little device that could be moved out of the way when not needed was a 'hill holder'. They literally acted by wedging against the tire. They were not ideal for many people because , when going up a hill, one had to overcome ones own weight as well the weight of the wheel chair.
The wheels planetary gear system literally cut's the torque and effort required to move forward or backwards. The trade-off is less movement in any given direction. A wise engineer will develop the system with a means of disengaging the planetary gear reduction when the additional torque isn't an advantage.
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