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Aussie-led world campaign inspires creation of solar-powered wheelchair

An Australian inspired international design challenge has led to the successful creation of a workable solar-powered wheelchair, an invention which could be life changing for people across the globe with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities.

The idea for a solar-powered wheelchair  was submitted by a man with cerebral palsy from Turkey as part of last year’s inaugural World Cerebral Palsy Day ‘Change My World In 1 Minute’ campaign.

Spear-headed by Australia’s Cerebral Palsy Alliance, the campaign asked people with cerebral palsy to submit ideas for things that could be created or developed to make their lives easier.

The solar-powered wheelchair was one of three ideas shortlisted and put to inventors across the globe to turn into reality – a feat achieved by a design team from the University of Virginia in the US.

Marcus Blease from Cerebral Palsy Alliance, who is also on the World CP Day Panel, said many in the energy industry thought the challenge of creating a workable solar-powered wheelchair was unachievable.

‘Many said it just couldn’t be done, but it is amazing what this team of young inventors from the University of Virginia have come up’, Mr Blease said.

‘Their winning design was inspired by retractable roofs on convertible cars. The use of lightweight yet strong materials with highly efficient solar cells means this newly designed solar-powered wheelchair is practical for everyday use.

‘This solar-powered wheelchair could well be a life-changer for people across the world with a physical disability like cerebral palsy, who rely on a wheelchair for mobility.’

The team from the University of Virginia was led by Dr. Mool Gupta and included six students: Dennis Waldron, Duncan McGillivray, Craig Ungaro, Ankit Shah, Maria Michael and Kyung Kim.

Their winning solar-powered wheelchair was primarily constructed at the National Institute of Aerospace’s Research and Innovation Laboratories Facility.

It has an additional 40% range over battery usage and can run more than one kilometre per hour indefinitely without consuming any battery charge. It is operated by a single switch and also includes added extras like USB power outlets.

In a touching display of generosity, the winning team is using the $20,000 prize money to refine and ship the wheelchair to Turkey for use by the man with cerebral palsy who originally submitted the idea.

They are donating any remaining prize money back to the World CP Day committee to support the 2013 campaign and beyond.

"This team of graduate and undergraduate students have created a device that will truly benefit those with disabilities," Engineering School Dean James H. Aylor said.

"The students on the team are excellent examples of the type of engineer we strive to produce in the U.Va. Engineering School – innovative leaders who are agents of change in society."

World CP Day 2013 will be held on Wednesday 2 October, with people able to submit ideas online from 14 July to 31 October 2013.

Check out the video entry by The University of Virginia.


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