CHAMPAIGN, IL – A galaxy far, far away has inspired a groundbreaking innovation right here on Earth.
University of Illinois researchers have unveiled a hands-free wheelchair, aptly named PURE – Personalized Unique Rolling Experience. Drawing inspiration from Star Wars’ BB-8 droid, the “ballbot” design mimics a Segway, offering users an intuitive experience by leaning in their desired direction.
Paralympian Adam Bleakney, a collaborator on the project, expressed the newfound freedom it brings. “The act of pushing a manual wheelchair prevents the hands from engaging in other more meaningful activities while moving – such as holding hands with a loved one on a walk, carrying a cup of coffee, holding a toddler while moving around the house. Each of these is possible with PURE,” Bleakney said.
The project began after being funded by a Toyota Mobility Unlimited Challenge store later being funded by a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, this self-docking, self-charging chair aims to redefine mobility for individuals with physical disabilities. Its omniwheel system enables smooth transitions between three driving modes. The team envisions adding advanced features like path-keeping and collision avoidance, further enhancing user autonomy.
With their gaze firmly fixed on the future, these innovators are poised to reshape accessibility and redefine personal mobility.