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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 the following:

a) Look for 6mph*. (faster has little "torque" almost always) Slower has better range, but is frankly dangerous even crossing the road!

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 system)

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 NEED this.

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 programmer easily 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 stone?)
**Unless in a slower powerchair or unless you are very light!

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