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2nd September 2014

A cheap all-terrain wheelchair

A faster, cheaper wheelchair could mean more mobility for the 40 million people across the world who need wheels, but can’t afford them.

Amos Winter might just be the next guy I fall for. He’s jovial, he’s passionate, he’s an engineer at MIT, and he makes me want to just drop everything and rush to Tanzania to test a lever powered wheelchair in a remote village. Because that’s what he does. He is determined to save the world bit by bit, coming up with ideas to solve global issues; in this case to change the lives of 40 million people who do not have a wheelchair.


(Photo: GRIT, Amos Winter during final trials in India)

The problem was given. There are too many people who do not have a wheelchair, or if they do it’s surely not fit for rural terrain. A great majority of them cannot afford to buy off-road $4K wheelchairs. In addition, if the wheelchairs break they are almost impossible to fix or replace. But it shouldn’t just be a heavy duty off-terrain device, it should also be light and small enough for indoor use.

His solution: a lever-powered wheelchair. Using the human body itself as the complex device, where by shifting the position of the hands on levers attached to the wheelchair, users could – just as in the case of bicycles – change the gear of the wheelchair to fit the terrain: whether it was in the sand, on a dirt road, or on the tiles indoors.

The outcome was a faster, cheaper and more efficient wheelchair. And more: a chance for housebound people to go out again, start work, get involved in their community.

Amos talks us through his idea in a recent TED talk

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Photo credit: TED talks