We loved watching Team GB do so well at the Rio Olympics and in just 7 days’ time the competition starts all over again with the Paralympics. We’ll be cheering on our athletes from the workshop, and we’ll also be keeping one eye on all the innovations in assistive technology that will be on display at the games. The realm of sport is often where the most exciting technological advances come from, and observing how the design teams meet the very specific needs of all the athletes to enable their best performance really brings out the inner geek in us here at Recliners.
We thought we’d share three of our favourite technologies past and present. Do let us know if you see anything that really impresses you at the Paralympics!
Sprint Wheelchair Designed by BMW
This is the design making all the headlines at the 2016 Paralympics. The US track and field team have teamed up with Designworks, the consultancy group responsible for much of the thinking behind BMW’s models to make a more advanced performance wheelchair than ever before.
Three elements of this wheelchair promise to help the US athletes go even faster at these games:
Use of 3D modelling technology. The designers photographed athletes in their chairs, then created 3D models to analyse how the aerodynamics might change in different positions. They were able to reduce drag by 15%.
Bespoke chairs for every athlete. Instead of just focusing on creating one high-performance chair, the designers used the body scan technology to mould each frame to the specific requirements of each athlete. The seats were moulded to their body shape, and even the gloves were 3D printed to their exact hand size.
Carbon fibre frame. Designworks built the frame using carbon fibre, as opposed to the traditional aluminium. The stiffer, stronger material will absorb more shock and keep the wheels better aligned.
3D Printed Prosthetic Leg
Prosthetic limbs are nothing new in the Paralympics, but the 2016 games in Rio will see the use of the first ever 3D printed limb, as Denise Schindler, the German cyclist takes to the road with a limb designed with the help of 3D software company Autodesk.
This signifies a real shift in the potential availability of prosthetic limb technology. The usual process involves specialist technicians hand-crafting the prosthesis using a cast taken from the original limb. It takes a minimum of two weeks to complete and can be expensive due to the technical skills required. But a bespoke 3D printed limb can produced quicker, at a much cheaper cost.
This opens up possibilities to make prosthetic limbs available on a much wider scale. Tune in to the Paralympic cycling to see how Schindler fares!
One of the most innovative pieces of design work from the 2012 Paralympics was the wheelchair used by Team GB’s entry in the discus, Derek Derenalagi.
Derenalagi is an ex British army soldier who lost his legs while serving in Afghanistan. The spin and torque required to throw a discus would seem to require the use of legs, but Remap, a UK charity that makes bespoke equipment for people with disabilities came up with an ingenious design that enabled Derek to compete.
The brief was very specific. It had to allow the athlete to generate the necessary amount of power. It had to be simple enough to construct that the athlete could assemble it in the required 60 seconds, with the help of an assistant. And it had to be light enough that it could travel on aeroplanes so Derek could compete around the world.
The design team nailed it, and Derek put in a fine performance at the London games, coming 11th in his category.