A New Type of Wheelchair Is Designed for Dancers


Most wheelchair designs are often focused around users’ comfort in everyday use, promising a better fit or a greater ease of movement. But wheelchair users want to do more than just move around without getting chafed. One wheelchair design in development supports dancers who can’t necessarily perform without mechanical aid. Science Friday reports that a University of South Florida-born power wheelchair is made to allow its users to move expressively, giving them the freedom of movement that dancing requires.

Wheelchair dance isn't a new phenomenon. In fact, for some people, dancing is more than just sport. It’s a form of therapy. Parkinson’s patients, for instance, often show symptom improvement after regular dance training. But performers often use chairs that are rigid and not designed for modern dance. The Rolling Dance Chair, by contrast, has greater flexibility to move in any direction. And when users move, the chair follows.

Through a wireless connection with the accelerometer and other motion sensors on the user's phone, the chair can sense the person is leaning, and lean with them. The wheels are tucked away to prevent costumes from getting tangled. And like a Segway (which partially served as a design precedent), the chair moves faster the more the user leans.

Merry Lynn Morris, the inventor, has been working on the dance chair for five years, and it’s the subject of five different patents. She began working on the device while working with dancers with disabilities who couldn’t control their lower bodies, but whose upper bodies were strong enough that the chairs they were using did more to hinder their performance than aid it.

The first prototype debuted in 2013, but Morris and her colleagues are working on a new one with hopes to put it on the commercial market. Right now, the seat isn’t powered to rotate or adjust the height, requiring manual manipulation, and it needs better wheels to make it quieter on all surfaces.

[h/t Science Friday]

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