McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD, FISA & Paralyzed Veterans of America Professor and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Rehabilitation Science & Technology, professor of Bioengineering, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, and Founding Director and VA Senior Research Career Scientist of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories—a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence in partnership with Pitt—participated in the recent VA Research Fair in Washington, DC. He demonstrated MEBot, a wheelchair which can climb stairs.
The Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair (MEBot)—developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory—will tackle both curbs and challenging terrains. The large center driving wheels can reposition themselves to simulate front-, mid-, or rear-wheel driving. The four smaller caster wheels are controlled with compressed air and move up and down freely and independently. For climbing curbs, the front caster wheels lift up onto the curb, and then the driving wheels lift themselves up and forward onto the curb which lifts the chair onto the curb. This is done automatically, whenever MEBot senses a curb or step. The ultimate goal is for MEBot to climb a set of stairs.
The same general function is used to operate on icy or slippery surfaces. A traditional power wheelchair can get stuck on this kind of terrain. MEBot, however, uses its front and rear caster wheels to inch forward on the slick surface by extending its front casters, moving the seat forward, bringing the rear casters forward, and then repeating the process. Meanwhile, the seat stabilization system keeps the driver safely upright.
Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research hosted the event, which was organized by VA’s office of Research and Development. The Friends of VA is a nonprofit group that helps Veterans receive high-quality health care, hosts events that highlight VA’s research successes.
Illustration: VA Research Currents.