Electric wheelchairs are expensive and awkward to transport, but many of the UK's 400,000 manual wheelchair users (both self-propelled and those dependent on an attendant or carer) could benefit from power assistance. Lockton Motor Limited is developing a detachable add-on unit, providing power, steering and braking at a lower cost, to fit 70% of manual wheelchairs. An attendant can walk alongside the chair, improving the experience for both parties. With both user control and attendant control modes,the unit can be swapped between chairs of users with very different capabilities - for example in a hospital or nursing home. Prototypes built so far (see gallery) test configurations and motor/drive systems, including brushless motors, high-torque hub motors and regenerative braking to conserve battery life. The Wheelchair Drive project has so far won the 2004 Motion Drives & Controls Award for Engineering in Product Design and a 2005 Cambridge University Entrepreneurs' New Business Idea Award. Any comments or suggestions will be gratefully received - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Idea summary [CUE, 2005, PDF, 7pp, 1.3 MB]
Full project report [Brunel, 2004, PDF, 170pp, 7.7 MB]
Prototype image gallery
Technological advances need not lead solely to bloated and over-complex vehicles. By appropriate use of technology, utility vehicles with an emphasis on sustainability and open source principles will benefit communities and permit economic development not only in the developing world, but in the West too.
As an ongoing project, Lockton Motor Limited is designing an ultra-lightweight commercial vehicle in the spirit of the original Reliant (summary), and has also published a Creative Commons-licensed paper, Motor Vehicles in the developing world: options for sustainability [PDF, 19pp, 320 kB].
Dan Lockton was a member of the UK design team for the A-Bike, the world's lightest folding bike, coming soon from Sir Clive Sinclair and Daka Designs, Inc., and for the Sinclair Research ZA20 WDU, a compact motorised assistance unit for wheelchair attendants and carers. He is also author of Rebel Without Applause, the first detailed history and analysis of the Reliant Motor Company, one of the world's leading specialist vehicle manufacturers, and is currently researching architectures of control in design.