Four newly-minted ASU graduates have created a new type of wheelchair that could add ease and convenience to the lives of people with disabilities. It’s based on a simple idea, but the concept didn’t occur to the students until they each tried getting around campus in a wheelchair for a day.
“It’s not until you spend a day in a wheelchair that you realize it is an extension of you as a person,” says Christopher Miranda, who just graduated in biomedical engineering. “Your height has been reduced, and you’re always looking up at people and trying to reach things, like the credit card slot on a vending machine, or a shelf in a store, or a counter in a coffee shop.”
Peter Georgiou, a May graduate in supply chain management, says he didn’t realize how important it was to be able to speak eye-to-eye with another person until he could no longer do it. He felt a sense of social inequity as others looked down to speak with him or avoided looking at him entirely.
Miranda, Georgiou and two others have developed an elevating wheelchair that raises its seat by 10 inches, through pneumatic gas springs that are similar to those in an office chair. Their team created the prototype this year through the InnovationSpace program, a multidisciplinary product development course that places senior-level students in business, industrial design, engineering and graphic design on a team and asks them to create a product with market value that serves a societal need.
InnovationSpace is an entrepreneurial joint venture among the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and W. P. Carey School of Business.
The team has been chosen as finalists in the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, which provides funding, office space and training for students to explore their innovations. They hope to bring their wheelchair, called UP, to market next year.
There are “standing wheelchairs” on the market, but the chairs are bulky, heavy and expensive, costing about $10,000, says Georgiou. They require a person to lean back and crank the seat forward. This new chair allows a person to press a button to lift or lower the seat, and it will sell for about $3,500.
Also on the team are Andrew Lai and Rachel Bone, who just graduated in industrial design and graphic design, respectively. The students’ varied backgrounds and abilities allowed the team to approach the problem in different ways.
They will produce the wheelchair in different color and customization options, with coordinating T-shirts, backpacks and hats, to give it a brand identity. Bone has also produced an attractive video to market the product on their website.
Georgiou credits Sidnee Peck, ASU director of entrepreneurial initiatives in the W. P. Carey School, for giving them practical advice, and Prasad Boradkar, director of InnovationSpace in the Herberger Institute, for inspiring them.
“Dr. Boradkar is very engaged and active, and he loves what he does,” says Georgiou. “He has a lot of insight and knowledge. A lot of our great ideas came from him.”
Georgiou, who graduated cum laude, grew up in Scottsdale and applied only to ASU because of the reputation of the Carey School: “It was ASU or bust,” he says.
Lai grew up in Taiwan and chose ASU for its industrial design program, though he also was accepted to Art Center College of Design and Pratt Institute of Art in New York, as well as Ohio State University and UCLA.
Bone, who is from Glendale, Ariz. and graduated summa cum laude, says she enrolled at ASU because it has the best graphic design program in Arizona. Miranda grew up in Nogales, Ariz. and graduated cum laude. He will enter ASU’s master’s program in biomedical engineering next fall.
Georgiou says a year ago he knew next to nothing about wheelchairs. Now he hopes their product might lead to broad innovations in the wheelchair industry.
“This year has been a blast and I’ve grown a lot as a person, learning about other fields and finding out how the real world works,” says Georgiou. “Engineers and designers look at things totally differently, and they have different ways to tackle problems. It’s been a great learning experience.”
For more information on their project, go to www.upwheelchair.com.