Wen the time came to think outside the box, one Swiss student decided to reinvent the wheel … chair.
Early in 2013, mechanical engineering student Bernhard “Beni” Winter of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zürich) was tasked with putting the knowledge he had acquired throughout his studies to use in an applicable manner. It’s a task that all mechanical engineering students at ETH Zürich must accomplish in the final year of their bachelor’s program. For Winter, he intended to use this “focus project,” as it’s referred to by the university, to develop a robot that could climb up stairs.
The result would be far from an ordinary robot.
With a team of seven mechanical engineers, and an electrical engineer in tow, the Scalevo concept was born. More than just a robot that climbs stairs, the Scalevo would be something much more practical in today’s world. It would be a wheelchair that can actually climb stairs. According to the Scalevo website, in the summer of 2014, the team set out to determine just how they could accomplish this.
Ultimately the team decided to use a set of tank-like tracks to assist with the wheelchair climb. By including some hydraulics into the design, the Scalevo dynamically keeps the rider level while treading up steps with ease. An amazing concept to be sure, Winter and his team demonstrated the wheelchair’s capabilities in front of the main building at ETH Zürich.
The video below, which was posted to the Scalevo YouTube channel on May 27, 2015, shows the machine in action. With the touch of a button, tank-like tracks drop down from the fully functioning wheelchair, transforming it into a stair-climbing machine.
Americans With Disabilities Act regulations mandate that newly constructed buildings be “readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities,” but in older parts of the country (and certainly in other parts of the world) existing buildings might not currently comply. The Scalevo, it seems, is capable of neutralizing infrastructure deficiencies with the touch of a button.
A primary concern for the Scalevo team (which is now comprised of 10 individuals) was to increase the wheelchair’s climbing speed. According to their FAQ page, they have already improved the machine’s speed to 1 step per second, which is four times faster than it climbs in the video below. The video only shows the Scalevo ascending a staircase, so their website addresses another frequently asked question, and that is whether or not the Scalevo can go down stairs as well. The answer? Yes, it can.
Those looking to purchase a Scalevo might have to wait a while, however. The website states that in order for this prototype to reach the market, they “would have to simplify the system to make it more robust, safer and easier to manufacture.”
That’s not to say that it won’t one day be available. Bionic limbs and exoskeleton technologies are becoming more and more commonplace in the world around us. Winter and his Scalevo team of thinkers and doers have reinvented the wheelchair, and it’s this kind of forward thinking that can one day help everyone to live a full life.