Imagine being unable to walk in a third world country. You might have to travel miles to reach food, water, school, or your place of employment. Even if you could obtain a wheelchair, it would not do you much good, considering that perfectly paved surfaces are few and far between.
Seeing these conditions first hand in East Africa inspired Amos Winter, who recently received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, to create the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC). It’s the mountain bike of wheelchairs, allowing riders to change gears based on the terrain they are trying to cover. The parts are all made from standard bicycle components. This makes them relatively accessible in all parts of the world, including developing countries and rural areas.
Users change gears by grasping different areas on levers attached to the wheels. On smooth surfaces, riders can grab low on the levers and travel 80 percent faster than a regular wheelchair. Meanwhile, on rough surfaces, riders grab higher on the levers and are able to power over obstacles, using 50 percent more torque than a regular wheelchair. The levers can also be removed for easier indoor use.
This revolutionary device has been piloted in Vietnam, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Guatemala, and India. It is currently being produced in partnership with India’s Jaiper Foot, a world-renowned organization. Throughout the design process, the opinion of wheelchair users was repeatedly taken into account, resulting in four different generations of development.
There are roughly 14 million people in the developing world who are unable to walk. This technology will better enable them to access education, employment, and community resources. It will allow them to be more independent, and significantly improve their quality of life. The LFC is a wonderful example of sophisticated yet simple technology geared toward alleviating poverty in the developing world.
– Katie Fullerton
Sources: MIT, GRIT