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Power wheelchair (powerchair) design compromises
The manufacturers of
Powered Wheelchairs have a problem. They have to balance a bunch of important
and difficult conflicting factors when designing a powerchair. You cant have
everything! Here is why:
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First of all it has to
be "different" and offer something that can be marketed. This is "mid
drive" (6 wheel platform of Pride Mobility etc?) or "standing" capability or off
road abilities etc.
This marketing rubbish causes a few major
problems on its very own! Its VERY difficult already to design a good
balance of components, a good COMPROMISE of all the different parameters, in a
good basic powerchair without trying to make it do these extra tricks as well!
These compromises are good Range & Speed.
This requires big batteries in both cases... And size (width and length and seat
height) so it is useful indoors too. All of these are conflicting design
elements as explained below.
Plus weight: lighter is always better!
It helps performance, range, curb and ramp climbing, manual handling etc. But
big batteries needed for range are also heavy.
So good ramp climbing and curb climbing capability needs yet bigger motors and
bigger Amp control systems. And one of the factors they are balancing here
is also cost... The been counters interfere and make our powerchairs worse.
A smooth outdoor ride is essential. Our
streets are torture without either good suspension or big soft smooth riding off
road style balloon tyres. Both of which adds cost, but more importantly eats
into the battery size problem. Big tyres require the space needed by batteries.
And batteries are the single biggest problem/compromise on any powerchair.
Bigger diameter and fatter wheels /.tyres and casters give a much better ride
outdoors. But make the powerchair physically bigger / less capable indoors.
Fancy "rehab" style seating. Seat risers,
tilt and recline, elevating legs and so on are all unbelievably badly designed
in most cases and MUCH heavier than really needed. Often these options mean both
a higher seat, AS WELL as smaller batteries since the seating mechanism needs
this space. So fancy seating, standing mechanisms etc always make for a less
capable overall powerchair unless designed with much care. And often you end up
sat far too high for tables, vans etc. And it impedes stability. Tall things
fall over easier. They also increase the discomfort over outdoor bumps as you
are jerked from side to side more. This causes more pressure sore issues from
shear forces. So be careful what "options" you choose!
So these points above are the BASIC compromises that
the powerchair manufacturer has to make. There are others. But this will give
you an idea of what to look for when choosing a powerchair.
A good compromise? Look for
a) Look for 6mph*. (faster has little
"torque" almost always) Slower has better range, but is frankly dangerous
even crossing the
b) Look for Group 24 or 70Ah batteries or
bigger. Less is always useless**
c) Look for a MINIMUM of 100 Amp in the
control system** (unless its a Dynamic
d) Look for max length of 42 inches
with the foot riggings in place and all casters extended (rotated) to longest
position. Most manufacturers quote length with no foot riggings and casters
rotated to shortest length. Longer is too long indoors.
e) Look for 25 to 25.5 inches Maximum width
- including your correct sized cushion or seating. Most manufacturers
quote this with a very narrow cushion. More is useless indoors. Less is good
only if YOU measure less when seated. No point in a chair that is narrower than
you are! Nothing gained.
f) Look for 3.5 or 4 inches ground clearance.
Less gets you stuck in snow or ramps etc.
g) Look for good suspension (difficult as
they are all pretty useless here) or far better still fat
off road style tyres for good
shock and bump absorption, and 9 or 10 inch casters. Our streets
h) Look for basic normal seating if you can
possibly manage without any powered options other than the ones that do not mean
smaller batteries or a higher seat. Be careful that they don't move you
"forwards" effecting the chairs C of G position making it hard to control.
i) Look for powerchairs where you can BUY a
to use yourself. Or it will always be useless!
j) Try to avoid typical wide swing away
footrests at all costs. they hit every doorway, making the chair
difficult in small spaces/around doors/corridors etc. These
things are a consequence of actually listening to consumers and rehab experts
that are clueless about powerchair design...
*8mph is ok if you are very light (8
**Unless in a slower powerchair or unless you are very light!
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