Having no experience with the handicapped lifestyle, this writer was surprised to learn that traditional wheelchair mechanics don’t maximize upper body biomechanics. Based his own research and experimentation, chair-bound Salim Nasser has proposed a better way for people to wheel themselves around.
Called the Rowheel Wheelchair Propulsion System, the setup reverses the power transfer process between the sitter’s arms and the wheels. Instead of pushing forward and down to advance, Rowheel users pull the inner wheel to the back. A series of gears “flips” the operator’s backward motion, causing the wheels to still move forward.
Why is pulling forward better for wheelchair users? According to Nasser, the old-school way of pushing a wheelchair doesn’t make use of the strongest muscle groups. Worse, the apparently unnatural motion of constantly pushing a wheel may cause repetitive stress injuries. Nasser claims that pulling forward better mimics rowing, where larger muscles like the upper back and biceps come into play.
Out of necessity, wheelchair users develop stronger arms than their walking counterparts. The Rowheel system promises to fully exploit the kinetics of the upper human body. Most importantly however, Salim Nasser designed Rowheel as an add-on to existing wheelchairs. No need to throw out the old for the new.
The Rowheel is an entry in the current Create the Future design contest for 2010. Whether or not it’s destined for a market release remains to be seen.