This redesigned wheelchair can climb stairs

For people who use wheelchairs, going anywhere requires quite a bit more planning than for the rest of us. Will there be ramps? Lifts, maybe? Or just an impassable flight of stairs?

But now a team of four university students from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and University of the Arts in Zurich has developed a prototype of a wheelchair that's able to climb stairs with no problems.

"The same electric wheelchairs were sold to disabled people for years, whereas everything else like smartphones, electric cars, drones, even robotic vacuum cleaners improved," the students write on their website.

"Our goal is to combine the new technologies and an aesthetic design to develop a new generation [of] wheelchair. It will give back enjoyable and flexible mobility to those in need and let them engage wherever life takes them."


It's been in development since late 2014, and combines a Segway-style self-balancing wheel with a set of rubbery tracks that are used on more challenging terrain. Activating track mode gives the chair substantially improved traction on slippery surfaces like snow and loose gravel.

It also lets the chair climb stairs with a slope between 17 and 34 degrees - including spiral staircases. You can see it in action at about 1m10s in the following video:

Still a prototype

Right now the machine is still a prototype, but the team is planning to have a version that can be mass-produced ready by the end of 2018. To that end, they're crowdfunding the finances necessary to make it happen.

"Currently, we are simplifying the system to make it more robust, safer and easier to manufacture," they say. "We will also have to pass certification before starting sales."

You can see the full details and technical specifications of the wheelchair on the team's website.

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.