Wheely extreme off-roading

A new four-wheel drive all-terrain wheelchair will make negotiating previously inaccessible footpaths and trails a walk in the park for wheelchair users.

A new four-wheel drive all-terrain wheelchair with a hybrid motor and an electronic assistance system will make negotiating previously inaccessible footpaths and trails a walk in the park for wheelchair users.

“This technology offers wheelchair users a level of freedom previously unavailable,” said Prof. Jürgen Wernstedt of the systems engineering applications centre of the Fraunhofer Institute for Information and Data Processing IITB, who together with Otto Bock HealthCare developed the novel assistance system. “Our test driver, a multiple sclerosis patient who has been wheelchair-bound for many years, was enthused. For the first time in a long time, he was able to visit the Thüringer Forest with his family without having to rely on outside help.”

Superfourin, as it’s called, looks like a small all-terrain vehicle with wide, deep-treaded tires, four-wheel drive and roll bar. The robust wheelchair can traverse gravel, rocky or snow-covered paths. With a high-performance hybrid motor, Superfourin can easily negotiate inclines of up to 40 per cent.

The vehicle was designed and built by engineers at Otto Bock HealthCare. Researchers from the ITTB developed the electronic monitoring and emergency call system, which successfully underwent testing in the rugged conditions of the Thüringer Forest.

For the physically disabled, the new technology offers security as well as independence. The vehicle is equipped with a GPS system that continuously transmits its position to a control centre, where a digital map shows its exact location. A display provides up-to-date technical information such as the fuel and battery levels, incline of the axles and the two or four-wheel drive setting.

Vital parameters such as pulse rate and blood oxygen content can also be superimposed on the display. In emergency situations such as when the wheels are locked, the wheelchair flips over or if the patient’s pulse suddenly begins to race, the system automatically sends out an alarm.

“The system is even designed to enable individual drivers to monitor an entire fleet of wheelchairs,” said Dr. Andreas Wenzel of the IITB. “The technology creates the basis for offering new services such as a Superfourin rental service. This opens up a new market targeted towards the physically disabled and their families. With its versatility, the all-terrain wheelchair can drive over snow-covered mountains, mud flats and sand dunes.”