– Charging Systems
– Battery Monitors
– Geared Hubs
Geared Hub TechnologiesWe seek innovative geared hubs for manual
Description of the Problem
There are more than 1.4 million
wheelchair users, and about 75% of them (about 1.05 million) use manual
wheelchairs. The population of individuals using wheelchairs is
estimated to be growing at a rate of 10% per year into the year 2002.
Manual wheelchair users generally have lower-extremity weakness,
paralysis, or amputation, making walking unsafe or difficult at
best. They may include individuals with spinal cord injuries,
hemiplegia and other types of paralysis, multiple sclerosis, cerebral
palsy, spina bifida, arthritis, and lower-limb amputations.
A user’s independence, access to environments, health, and safety are
all affected by their ability to propel the wheelchair. There has
been little change in the basic design of manual wheelchairs over the past
decade. The user typically propels, steers, and brakes the motion of
the wheelchair by pushing against or grasping the pushrim. The user
must apply large forces to accomplish these actions. The force
directed inward toward the wheel hub does not contribute to propulsion or
braking but is necessary in order to generate friction between the user’s
hands and wheelchair pushrims.
Injury is common among manual wheelchair users. Shoulder-related
injuries have been shown to be present in up to 51% of manual wheelchair
users. In addition, the prevalence of elbow, wrist, and hand pain
has been reported to be 16%, 13%, and 11%, respectively. The incidence of
carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff tendonitis, for example, is
greater than 50% for people who regularly use manual wheelchairs as
compared to 3% for the general population.
Manual wheelchair users generally brake or slow their wheelchairs by
producing a frictional force, opposing wheel motion between their hands
and the pushrims. Both propelling and braking the wheelchair can
produce blisters and calluses on the user’s hands.
Environmental factors can increase the force required to propel a
manual wheelchair. These factors include soft rolling surfaces (e.g.,
sand, gravel, dirt, mud, thick carpeting); rough, broken, or uneven
surfaces (e.g., potholes, sidewalk cracks); inclined surfaces (e.g.,
hillsides, curbs, ramps), and weather-affected surfaces such as snow and
Environmental and human factors can reduce a user’s ability to produce
and apply the forces necessary to propel and brake a manual
wheelchair. Rain, sleet, snow, and perspiration can reduce the
friction between the user’s hand and the pushrim. Cold can reduce
the user’s ability to grasp the pushrim. Fatigue reduces the user’s
ability to generate the force for propulsion or braking. Heat can
accelerate the onset of perspiration and fatigue.
Propulsion of manual wheelchairs improves a user’s cardiovascular
fitness and upper body strength. As one would expect, a user’s
strength and stamina typically diminish over time. Of necessity, these
users must transition to a power wheelchair or be pushed about in a manual
wheelchair by a caregiver. Frail elderly and persons in the later
stages of progressive disabilities typify such users. Extending the
period during which these user’s can self-propel would provide important
health and independence benefits.
Current State of Technology
The forces needed to propel,
brake, or steer a manual wheelchair depend on pushrim and wheel diameters,
pushrim design, tire and surface properties, surface contour, and
propulsion biomechanics, which vary from user to user. Geared hubs
allow a user to select the level of propulsive force appropriate to their
physical abilities, personal preferences, and environmental conditions.
The mechanical advantage provided by a geared hub is characterized by
its “gear ratio.” For a standard hub without gearing, there is a
1-to-1 ratio between the rotation of the HANDRIM and the rotation of the
wheel. For a geared hub having a 2-to-1 gear ratio, a complete
rotation of the HANDRIM results in a one-half rotation of the wheel.
Geared hubs can have a number of discrete gear
ratios from which to select or a continuously variable gear ratio that
allows the user to select any gear ratio between some lower and upper
- A low gear ratio allows a user to propel with decreased force albeit
at low speeds. In general a low gear ratio would be useful when
the user is going up inclines or over soft surfaces, is fatigued, or has
decreased strength and stamina.
- A high gear ratio requires a user to generate more force in order to
propel, steer, or brake but allows the user to propel at higher
speeds. In general, a high gear ratio would be useful for fast
travel over hard, level ground or declines or for active or athletic
The mechanism by which the user selects a gear ratio is an important
design consideration. A common mechanism is a system of levers and
cables (similar to road bikes). However, levers and cables tend to
get caught on clothing and environmental obstacles, can impede the user’s
movements, and are considered, by users, to be unsightly. Using this
method to change gear ratios, the user must interrupt the continuity of
propulsion by moving their hand from the pushrim to the gear-selection
Multi-rim geared hubs have been designed whereby each rim drives a
different gear ratio. The user selects a gear ratio by selecting and
pushing against a matched set of rims. Multiple sets of rims must
necessarily be offset vertically or horizontally. Horizontal rim
offset increases wheelchair width and decreases the user’s access to
confined environments. Rims that are vertically or horizontally
offset are more difficult for the user to reach and change propulsion
biomechanics. A multi-rim approach is not likely to be compatible
with continuously variable gearing.
Technology Needs and Barriers
Information gathered from
users, manufacturers, clinicians, and other stakeholders has identified
characteristics of an ideal geared hub system. Minimum requirements
are identified as items that “must” be addressed to make a design
acceptable; other attributes that will benefit the design are identified
as items that “should” be addressed. Specifically, a geared hub
- must be part of a drive wheel that replaces a standard drive wheel
rather than being a retrofit or add-on to a standard drive wheel.
- must retain a single, “standard” pushrim as part of its
design. This pushrim should resemble a standard pushrim in both
its form and function.
- should have continuously variable (linear) gearing. If
continuous variable gearing is not practical, then the geared hub system
should have (at least) four discrete gear ratios in the
(approximate) range of 1-to-2 through 2-to-1.
Note: It may be appropriate to have a few geared hub systems whose
gear ratios reflect the needs of distinct user populations (e.g., frail
elderly versus active, athletic). Consumer or clinical trials
could better define the optimal range of gear ratios and specific gear
- must provide “reverse gearing” for propelling backward.
Note: Group participants suggested that a single reverse gear
ratio equal to the lowest forward gear ratio would be optimal.
Consumer or clinical trials could better define the optimal reverse gear
- should offer manual selection of gear ratios rather than an
“automatic” gear ratio selection—gear ratio automatically changes in
response to applied torque. Gear ratio selection must have the
- a single user interface—as opposed to separate interfaces for the
left and right wheels—to shift both wheel hubs simultaneously.
- shift smoothly through all (the entire range of) gear ratios.
- shift smoothly while the chair is in motion—i.e., being propelled.
- must offer a user interface for gear ratio selection with the
- minimal user dexterity required to operate
- minimal user force required to operate
- simple, intuitive actions required to operate
- no interruption of propelling required to operate
- no obtrusive levers, cables, or similar hardware
- easily mountable in many locations on the wheelchair
- easily mountable or configured in a range of orientations
Note: Manual wheelchair users suggest that an interface similar to
pressure pads (like big button switches) may be the optimal user
interface. They suggest that the geared hub system should also be
able to utilize other user interfaces (pressure pad, lever, etc.) in
order to accommodate diverse user abilities.
- should “feel about the same” as a standard manual wheelchair from
the perspective of a person pushing either wheelchair.. must have the
following physical characteristics:
- weigh 7 pounds or less
- not increase the width of the manual wheelchair
- not change the look of the wheelchair—i.e., unobtrusive appearance
- not change any other wheelchair functions—e.g., portability,
- should generally be quiet during use. When the user shifts
gears, the geared hub system should provide an auditory “click” (similar
to mountain bikes) confirming the gear ratio change.
- must have a safety mechanism that allows the user to independently
revert to a 1-to-1 gear ratio.
- must not add significantly to the rotational inertia of the drive
wheel—i.e., flywheel effect.