A group of Swiss students developed an electric wheelchair that can climb stairs. The technology could eliminate the need for access ramps and stair lifts. It would also be more convenient for wheelchair users because they would not have to go out of their way to find accessible elevators.
The Scalevo Wheelchair was designed by ten students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) and the Zurich University of the Arts. On flat ground, the chair balances on two wheels like a Segway. When the chair approaches stairs, the user just has to turn the chair around and then press a button to trigger two rubber tracks to come out for climbing mode. The user rides up the stairs backwards, with a rearview camera to guide the way. Rubber grips on the tracks hook onto the steps above to propel the chair and its occupant upwards. As it reaches the top a smaller pair of support wheels descend to prevent the wheelchair from toppling over. The alignment on the stairs and the leveling of the wheelchair driver is automated, so all that users have to do while climbing stairs is control the velocity.
The students designed the chair to be compact—just like a manual wheelchair, the stair-climbing electric wheelchair fits through narrow doors and can slide under tables. Their prototype was built in ten months and has been subjected to a series of tests that proved it can even climb cracked, uneven stairs and spiral staircases. The students plan to bring their design to market, and they anticipate that the Scalevo will not be much more expensive than traditional wheelchairs.