Since its first known use in 1595, the wheel chair, then called the invalid's chair, has seen few advancements in style and use. For hundreds of years, those physically disabled persons have been limited in their options for mobility.
Fast forward a few hundred years to 1916, when the first motorized wheel chair was manufactured in London. Over the next few decades the design of the basic wheelchair remained unchanged. Today, with the back drop of massive advancements in robotics and smart technology, victims of degenerative disease and severe spinal injury are finding more and more options to help them regain their mobility and freedom.
In 2007, a company called TopChair began selling the first of these incredible new devices. Available in more than 30 countries, the top chair allows the user to climb stairs. No ramp, no problem, the TopChair can climb stairs of any material and allows the user the freedom of going anywhere without worry of handicap access.
TopChair is not alone. Around the same time TopChair was busy perfecting stair climbing, other companies including LEVO and The Standing Wheelchair Company, were working on getting users back on their feet.
The use of the standing wheel chair has allowed those who might otherwise be stuck in their situation strive for more.
Dr Ted Rummel – an orthopedic surgeon in O’Fallon, Missouri – thought his career was over when a blood filled cyst in his spine burst, leaving him without the use of his legs. After a year of intense therapy, Dr. Rummel was able to return to the operating room. but operating from the confinement of the sitting wheel chair, Rummel still didn’t have the ability to perform some of the surgeries that would have required him to stand. Now, with the help of a standing wheel chair, he is once again able to preform all the surgeries he could before his injury. Rummel told the Enqurier how important the ability to regain his freedom has been:
“When I’m able to do this, and I can get a piece of my life back, it’s huge,” he said. “It’s so special.”
While these advancements are leaps and bounds ahead of wheelchairs just 20 years ago, the continuing advancements in robotics technology means even greater strides in the very near future for the physically disabled.
TEK Robotics is taking the standing chair a bit further with its RMD (Robotic Mobilization Device), which allows the user even more freedom of moment, making it not only easier for them to get through daily life, but also offsetting the need for assistance when it comes to mounting and dismounting the chair. Check out this video that demonstrates the device in detail.
Wait, it gets even better! Soon, the chair itself may become a thing of the past. Engineers are well on their way to perfecting this exoskeleton, displayed at TED, which could one day assist humans in everything from carrying large items to allowing wheelchair users to stand up and walk.
Wheel chair users won’t be the only ones to benefit from this forward motion in mobility technology. Amputees will have access to some very exciting prosthetic technology.
A team at the Rehabilitation Institute in Chicago, led by biomedical engineer Levi Hargrove reported a breakthrough in prosthetic engineering to the New England Journal of Medicine. The team was able to hardwire a 32 year old amputee victim’s brain to his new robotic prosthetic, allowing him to control it like he might his own limbs.
Considering that most of these advancements took place in the last 50 years, it is a sure bet that those once destined for a life in a chair can look forward to a brighter future.