Stairclimbing Wheelchairs: Fact and Fiction

By |2017-01-13T20:41:51+00:00June 12th, 2015|
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This 2009 Galileo prototype was never fully built.

The 2009 Galileo prototype shown in this screenshot was never fully built, and currently there are no plans to finish it.

The intersection of social media world and spinal cord injury world has exploded in the last few weeks with posts and videos of “miraculous” new stairclimbing wheelchairs. The first video to circulate featured a Mr. Bill-esque animation of a power chair sprouting tank-like tracks and a mechanized arm system that elevates, reclines and even fully extends the user’s legs and lowers him in that position. The dated video has Turkish subtitles and no links or companies to follow up with. I saw post after post after post from excited wheelchair users wondering where they could get one, how much it costs and why they hadn’t heard about it. Well, not to burst any bubbles, but you probably won’t ever see one outside Mr. Bill’s animated world.

As far as I can find, the original video dates back to 2009 and shows a prototype called Galileo that was never fully built. At one point in the video they show actual footage of a stairclimbing chair, but if you pay attention it is does not do much of what is teased in the animation. In the longer version (below), there is additional real footage of a green base prototype doing some cool things, but it looks far from safe or ready for the medical market. The same uploader even posted a third video showing a second, apparently later, animation where the prototype has evolved again. Sadly the poster has not uploaded any related videos in over five years. I tried to follow up via YouTube and email with the video’s earliest poster, but I have not heard back.

So when a friend forwarded me a Monday post from the Huffington Post article on another stairclimbing chair, this one with Swiss origins, you can imagine my skepticism. The article says the Scalevo is “the brainchild of 10 Zurich students studying mechanical and electrical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) and industrial design at the Zurich University of the Arts, according to the group’s website.”

The much-slicker, and obviously recent, video shows a two-wheeled power chair that resembles many of the seated Segway conversions with a chainsaw-like tread that retracts and lowers below the chair to slooooooowly propel the chair up stairs. The article says the designers are hoping to get to 1 second per stair but they are a long ways from that. Still, they have a working prototype and, in this day where instant Internet fame doesn’t require any substance, that is saying something.

Would you use a stairclimbing chair like this? What chair-related innovation would you like to see the most? Share below.