Thanks to cutting-edge technology, the future for wheelchair users is brighter than it’s ever been. There are apps and gadgets to help with everything from mundane daily tasks to more significant obstacles like muscle atrophy and pain management.
But apps and gadgets aren’t the only way wheelchair users of the future will see improvements. Wheelchairs themselves are also getting a makeover.
Self-driving chairs, standable chairs, stair climbing chairs, and anti-collision chairs are all on the horizon. Then, there are light wheelchairs, which promise functionality and strength at less than half the weight of standard wheelchair options. Here’s your primer on how the wheelchair tech of the future might look.
Light wheelchairs are yet another way the traditional wheelchair is transforming. When most people think of a lightweight wheelchair, they assume it will lack sturdiness, but that’s no longer the case.
Today’s light wheelchairs can easily weigh less than twenty pounds but still have all the sturdiness and accessories of a more traditional option.
Using military-grade magnesium frames, light wheelchairs have the strength of much bulkier chairs, but they’re more maneuverable, making tight turns possible. These lighter options are also far easier to transport. It’s relatively easy for a caregiver to throw one of these chairs in the trunk of their car without extra help.
Today’s wheelchair users can expect better mobility that allows them to engage with the world in ways that they once thought impossible. Standable chairs, for example, provide upright mobility, even in uneven urban terrain.
With a standable chair, users gain eye-level interaction with friends, family, and colleagues. Users can also reduce the secondary complications of long-term sitting, which results in lower medical costs.
Self-driving chairs are another impressive step forward in wheelchair tech. Thanks to robotics and sensor technology improvements, wheelchairs that can sense and avoid obstacles will likely become more prevalent. This advancement means future chairs are less likely to tip and will easily avoid collisions.
Stair climbing chairs
Stair climbing chairs make otherwise inaccessible areas manageable for wheelchair users. These machines can literally climb stairs, which means elevators and ramps are no longer the only options.
Automated personal assistants
Mobile phone apps, advanced devices, and other tech gadgets will also make a vast difference for future wheelchair users. Some of these devices are already prevalent.
For example, automated personal assistants like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa can significantly help those with limited mobility.
Alexa, paired with an Amazon Echo, can easily control everyday devices in the home, including lights, thermostats, televisions, and music players. And since it does it all via voice, many people with disabilities can easily use it.
Also prevalent is the Apple Watch, which provides sensors for heart rate and other health metrics that those with disabilities may rely on heavily. The Apple Watch also features motion sensors that can connect to wheelchairs.
But there’s still massive room for improvement when it comes to tech that wheelchair users can wear. Much of this promising potential lies in the realm of neuroprosthetics.
Neuroprosthetics integrate neuroscience with bioengineering and already have created miraculous improvements in the lives of those with disabilities.
One company, called AxioBionics, is turning neuroprosthetic technology into a wearable device. With it, users can manage pain, control muscle spasms, and prevent muscle atrophy without any pharmacological interventions.
AB’s Wearable Therapy delivers electric impulses directly to paralyzed muscles. This technology can improve the range of motion and strengthen the connection between the brain and the muscle, vastly improving therapy outcomes.
Then there’s the ever-growing world of mobile apps, many of which already cater to wheelchair users. For example, Wheelmate is an app that uses GPS and user input to give those in wheelchairs an overview of nearby wheelchair-friendly restrooms and parking spaces.
There’s also the Wheel Fit app, which delivers fitness routines for those with limited mobility. It includes strength training plans, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) plans, and many other options. Plus, it features nutrition plans and trackers.
Even mainstream apps like Uber are becoming more wheelchair-friendly. The app now offers the ability to search for WAVs (wheelchair-accessible vehicles). So, those with limited mobility can still get where they need to go.
When it comes to day-to-day living, a few other helpful tech gadgets are growing more advanced with each new model release. Take the Roomba, which can make cleaning the floors in anyone’s home a breeze but is especially helpful for those with disabilities.
iRobot, the company that makes Roomba, isn’t stopping with people’s floors. iRobot is currently working on a “Rosie” robot that will feature robotic arms.
With arms attached, the Rosie will be able to load dishes, start laundry, and take care of other mundane tasks that can challenge wheelchair users. It will even be able to carry food from the kitchen to the dining room table by using the same technology Roomba does to map the home.
Of course, robotic arm technology is helpful in other ways. Wheelchair users of the future will easily be able to attach a robotic arm straight to their chair.
And, robotic arms can do all sorts of vital tasks. Mechanical arms can hold drinking glasses, open doors, and assist with eating. For users with upper-body disabilities, a gadget like that can change everything.
The Tecla is another device that can improve the lives of those with upper-body impairments. It connects to and controls most home tech, including smart lights, TV sets, and thermostats. Plus, it allows users to send texts, calls for an Uber, and so much more.
However, unlike an automated personal assistant, the Tecla doesn’t require voice activation. Instead, users can use various switch options, including blink switches, a chin switch, or a joystick.
As technology improves, wheelchair users can expect more independence and interact with the world in new ways. Apps, gadgets, and wheelchairs themselves are constantly transforming for the better. That means the future for wheelchair users is only looking brighter.