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An Extension of Themselves: 3D-Printed Wheelchairs Will Fit Like Second Skin

June 22, 2016Posted by Terry Turner

“Bespoke,” is typically a term used to describe custom, made-to-order clothing.

It is fitting, then, that the term be used to describe a futuristic 3D wheelchair that users will, in essence, wear, as an extension of themselves.

Led by Benjamin Hubert, the London-based Layer Design company has partnered with 3D design firm Materialise to flip the traditional one-size-fits all medical model on its spokes.

Hubert has spent two years combining human mapping technology and 3D printing capability to produce what he hopes will be the “mobility revolution.”

“Our job as designers is to make people’s lives better,” Hubert said. “The whole project was about creating a second skin.”

Layer unveiled its sleek prototype during the Clerkenwell Design Week in May, revealing a “GO Wheelchair” tailored to its user’s unique physical needs and bodily measurements.

Someone who’s lost a leg, for example, may want the seat designed to compensate for a loss of balance, while another user with a spinal injury may want a higher back to the seat.

compare 1

To create the chair, the user’s body is are scanned, and their individual biometric map is used to shape the custom seat and footbed. This is a huge advancement in comfort for people who spend hours at a time in their wheelchair.

An accompanying app will allow the customer to stay involved in the design process by providing their personal input on other features, like patterns and colors.

“It’s only possible via 3D printing,” Hubert said. “There’s never been anything as responsive to people’s needs. There is not any other platform even close to offering the same benefit.”

Benjamin Hubert

A resin and plastic seat works as a shock absorber while the footbed is custom-printed from titanium to provide strength while reducing weight. Delicate, but strong, carbon fiber spokes further reduce weight.

The chairs have a sleek, minimalist look, but their form follows function.

Pushing a wheelchair is an unnatural human activity. It results in repetitive strain, arthritis, and other injuries. Rain can make it harder for the user to grip the wheels to propel themselves.

The GO Wheelchair moves the rear axle forward, to a more ergonomic position for pushing them. Users have special, open-fingered gloves (pictured below) that effectively “lock” onto the design of the GO’s pushwheel, creating a greater “power-to-push ratio” in any weather or road conditions.

Gloves 1

“It’s about empowering the user in every sense,” Hubert said.

While much of the body is custom made, tires and hardware are from off-the-shelf sources to help keep the price down and repairs simple.

There are still logistics that need to be settled, like what the final cost will be, and when the chair will be brought to market.

That will depend on approval from government regulators in the UK and European Union, though Hubert says several medical device companies have shown an interest in acquiring the design and bringing it to market.

While we wait, we want to hear from you: let us know what you think!

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