A team from University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science recently won first place in a 2012 World Cerebral Palsy Day competition for their solar powered wheelchair design.
We first reported on solar wheelchairs back in 2010, when Haidar Taleb had just begun a journey to take him across the United Arab Emirates.
Inspired by roofs on convertible cars, the lightweight solar panels on the U.Va. team’s wheelchair are retractable and don’t significantly add to its length, width, height or weight when stored. A system of hinges on both sides of the chair controls the deployment of the solar panels. The three panels have a conversion efficiency of 15% and a capacity of 160 watts.
When fully deployed, the custom solar panels cover an area of over one square meter. The wheelchair can operate for more than 4.5 hours at a speed of 8 kilometres per hour on a fully charged lead acid deep cycle battery, a range increase of more than 40 percent over batteries alone. At a speed of 1.6 km/h and suitable light exposure, the wheelchair and can run “indefinitely”; without needing to utilise battery power.
Built with lightweight materials, while the system may look fragile, it has been designed to operate under conditions more extreme than would be experienced in normal use. The panels and retractable mechanisms account for less than 15% of the completed wheelchair’s unoccupied weight.
Anyone with enough physical dexterity to use a joystick can operate the chair; including retracting and deploying the solar panels. In addition to standard features common to this type of wheelchair, USB power outlets are provided that can power a wide range of small devices.
In a wonderful display of generosity, the team will use their prize money to perform some final tweaks to the chair give it the individual in Turkey who submitted the initial suggestion for a solar-powered wheelchair.
The remaining prize money will be returned to United Cerebral Palsy in support of future World CP Day competitions.