Innovative wheelchair is an industry first
By Jeanine Matlow
All it takes is a look back at “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” to remind us how tricky it can be to find the perfect chair.
The search is more frustrating when you need a wheelchair to get around. But that could change due to the revolutionary 3D printing technology behind the ingenious GO wheelchair, designed for those living with disabilities.
Though still in prototype form, the advanced concept is set to deliver a one-of-a-kind design while demonstrating the relationship between form and function at its finest.
A collaboration between Materialise in Belgium and creator Benjamin Hubert of London design agency Layer, the unique product is off to a great start. As Plymouth, Mich.-based Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager of North America for Materialise explains, 3D printing is known as additive manufacturing; the process of layer upon layer upon layer of materials being printed to create a 3D object.
For more than 25 years, Materialise has been developing software that serves as the backbone of technology advancements in a number of different industries. “We’re collaborating with many thought leaders who really create ideas like the GO wheelchair that are not only more functional and patient-specific, but very aesthetically pleasing. It’s that ability to think outside the box that leads us to collaborate with people like Benjamin Hubert,” says Crutchfield.
With more than 140 commercial printers worldwide, Materialise also produces more than a million parts a year in the medical and manufacturing industries.
Pairing with Hubert makes perfect sense, given the fact that Materialise and Layer have similar visions. While the mission of Materialise is to make the “world a better and healthier place” via technology, Hubert is trying to make the world better for a patient in a wheelchair by thinking creatively, says Crutchfield. “He really spoke to our mission statement. It’s that innovative thought process that really inspires us.”
“We’re collaborating with many thought leaders who create ideas like the GO wheelchair that are not only more functional and patient-specific, but very aesthetically pleasing.”
– Bryan Crutchfield, Materialise North America
Customization is key. As an article on Design-Milk.com details, the GO made-to-measure 3D-printed consumer wheelchair was the result of two years of research that yielded a wheelchair designed with a 3D-printed resin seat and TPU suspension, sitting upon an aluminum insert and rolling on unique spoke design wheels.
Though its appearance is refreshingly modern and sculptural, there is more to the invention than meets the eye. Layer has incorporated user biometric information to provide an ergonomic experience by individually fitting body shape, weight and disability in order to reduce injury and increase comfort, flexibility and support.
One man’s plan
Hubert is the creative force behind the GO wheelchair, which was recently launched at Clerkenwell Design Week in London as part of an exhibition of Layer’s most recent work.
As an industrial designer with a background in furniture design, he knows all about the significance of the end user. According to Materialise, Hubert is constantly thinking about opportunities to use cutting-edge technology to solve problems. With the GO wheelchair, he sought to create a more human-centered vehicle to improve the everyday lives of users.
All the right gear
GO may be Layer’s inaugural project, but the clever concept doesn’t stop there thanks to some additional bells and whistles. According to Layer’s website, “The accompanying GO app allows users to participate in the design process by specifying optional elements, patterns and colorways, and to place orders.”
Layer also found a way to improve the connection between the product and its end user, resulting in a smoother ride. GO Gloves were designed to reduce the strain of self-propelling the wheelchair, while improving the level of grip between a rider’s hands and the wheelchair’s push rims. The gloves’ positive triangular pattern fits into the wheel’s negative imprint grip.
Another model based in 3D technology, the HU-GO (no connection to the GO) offers a low-cost, easy-to-assemble wheelchair designed by Australian architect Hugo Riveros. Riveros was inspired by images of people in developing countries being pulled around on carts.
According to 3dprint.com, Riveros designed the HU-GO chair to be easy to build in places where most people who need a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to buy one, let alone have access to the parts to make one. He replaced much of the hardware and components with easy-to-source materials and designed 3D-printed connectors and supports, so the chair can be assembled virtually anywhere in the world.
When you picture a wheelchair, a custom product may be the last thing that comes to mind. But with the help of 3D technology and creative minds such as these, the next generation of wheelchairs are sure to provide the right fit.