Power Electronics to Improve Quality of Life

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Power electronics have invaded several areas of life. EDEC lab is actively involved in pursuing projects that aim to design and analyze energy efficient solutions for improving quality of life for people. These range from philanthropic efforts funded through the university and industry projects. One such project currently underway is the Power Assisted Wheelchair project.

A manual wheelchair is inexpensive, lightweight and can withstand long usage periods. However, such a wheelchair could cause significant muscular stress to its user, especially when it is used over long period of time. Previous studies have shown the propulsion efficiency of a manual wheelchair is between 5% and 18%. Manual wheelchair users also experience a high incidence of upper extremity joint degeneration and pain. The incidence of injuries to the wrist, elbow, and shoulder among manual wheelchair users is reported to be between 25% and 80%. There is also some indication that the incidence of pain increases with the length of wheelchair usage, and that cardiopulmonary fitness tends to decrease with age. Alternative propulsion interfaces have been developed with limited success due to compromises in the performance of common activities of daily living. These issues were compelling reasons for investigating the power assisted wheelchair.

A power assisted wheelchair is one of the most advanced wheelchairs in the current commercial market. Although such wheelchairs are well suited for a physically disabled person who needs physical activity, they tend to be expensive and inefficiently designed. At the EDEC lab, we have designed and prototyped power assisted wheelchairs that are meant to match and exceed the conventional wheelchair’s performance, but with a more intelligent and significantly lower cost design. There are several unique characteristics of the design including light weight, environment adaptability, modularity, portability and practically no learning curve. This video shows one of the preliminary tests that was conducted to test the IR sensor.