London-based design company debuts a 3D-printed consumer wheelchair that uses a person's biometric information for a made-to-measure fit. Matthew Stock reports.
Designer Benjamin Hubert wants to change the perception of wheelchairs as medical devices. This is his prototype 3D-printed wheelchair. It's made-to-measure to fit each individual's body shape, weight and disability. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BENJAMIN HUBERT, INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER, SAYING: "Currently wheelchairs are obviously heavily stigmatised; they're very mechanical, they're seen as medical devices. And you speak to any wheelchair user and some of the things that come out that are really powerful and move you are; this is an extension of their body. It isn't just a medical tool." The wheelchair is the result of two years of development between Hubert's design company Layer and 3D-printing specialists Materialise. It has two 3D-printed elements - the seat and the foot bay. The user's body is scanned with their biometric data mapped. Computer algorithms help tailor the shape for maximum comfort and performance. Industrial 3D-printers then build the one-of-a-kind item. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BENJAMIN HUBERT, INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER, SAYING: "You can create super-complex forms and constructions that give you a lot of benefits. So we're layering different materials together to get integrated dampening suspension in the seat, which is both lighter and more cost effective than putting big suspension systems in the framework. Traditional wheelchairs often come in a limited range of shapes and sizes. The makers say this tailor-made design reduces the risk of injury while increasing flexibility and support. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BENJAMIN HUBERT, INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER, SAYING: "Ride comfort goes up, injury goes down and you have something that's much more connected to the body; essentially the wheelchair is an extension of the human body, and that's how it needs to be thought about." The wheelchair was unveiled at the Clerkenwell Design Week in London. The makers are in discussions with wheelchair manufacturers about how the technology could be integrated into their products.