A new waterproof motorized wheelchair that runs entirely on compressed air was unveiled April 7 at Morgan’s Wonderland, a 25-acre theme park in San Antonio, Texas. The park was built specifically for individuals with disabilities, and 10 of these chairs are available to patrons at the venue’s new splash park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
Designed, developed and constructed at the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), the patent-pending PneuChair uses high-pressured air as an energy source, instead of heavy batteries and electronics. The chair weighs about 120 pounds overall and takes just 10 minutes to recharge, compared to eight hours to charge an electric mobility device.
HERL, which is a joint effort between Pitt and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, was already working on a prototype of the PneuChair when it heard from representatives from Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR), a nonprofit organization established by The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation of San Antonio to oversee Morgan’s Wonderland. They asked HERL for help in developing powered mobility for the new splash park.
Brandon Daveler is a Pitt graduate-student researcher and the lead mechanical design engineer on the project. “The PneuChair uses a simpler design without a lot of electronics and software,” he says. “If something goes wrong, many of the components can be purchased at your local hardware store.”
The maximum distance on one fully charged tank is around three miles, about a third of the distance an electric chair can travel before it needs to be recharged. Pitt and SOAR are looking to establish a long-term licensing agreement wherein the PneuChair could be used in a variety of markets — personal care homes, shopping venues, grocery stores or airports.
The Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) is a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh, the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, and UPMC Health System. HERL is dedicated to wheelchair and mobility research, specifically by improving the mobility and function of veterans and others with disabilities through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation. For more information on HERL, visit www.herl.pitt.edu.
About Morgan’s Wonderland
Morgan’s Wonderland is one of many initiatives of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation to promote inclusion and to help those with special needs. Now in its eighth season, the park is free for those with special needs. For more information on Morgan’s Wonderland, visit www.morganswonderland.com.
About The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation
The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation was established in 2005 to help San Antonio, Texas, area agencies assist families who care for loved ones with cognitive and physical special needs, with a particular focus on serving children’s needs. For more information on the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, visit www.gordonhartman.com.