Wheelchairs are assistive device for individuals with disability or injury. Manual wheelchairs provide an effective means of improving individual upper-limb muscle strength and user’s cardiopulmonary function. However manual wheelchairs leads to a gross loss of mechanical efficiency, and thus risk of upper-limb injury and user fatigue. Electric-powered wheelchair reduces the risks posed by manual wheelchairs but at the same have large physical size and are relatively expensive.
Researchers are now trying to utilize function deployment mode to develop a wheelchair with user-selectable manual or electric propulsion mode along with a solar power supply system. One such study was published in 2014 in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (JRRD). The study concluded that the use of auxiliary solar power supply system increased the travel range of a wheelchair by 26% compared to a wheelchair powered by battery alone. Moreover, the modular design of the wheelchair provided ease of transportation and storage, thus overcoming the shortfall of electric powered wheelchairs.
With the increasing incidence rate of ambulatory disabilities the demand for wheelchairs is expected to upsurge. Though electric powered wheelchairs are preferred over manual wheelchairs, the cost becomes a constraint for its usage. To overcome such barriers, the research undertaking for solar powered wheelchair is considerably increasing past few years.
The researches undertaken to combine electric and solar powered wheelchairs to increase the runtime will eventually attract industry players towards commercializing these wheelchairs. Moreover, added features such as USB ports, solar panel shades and joy stick will further makes these wheelchairs user –friendly. All these factors will increase the demand and market for solar powered wheelchairs.
Solar panel: researchers are trying to develop breakthrough technologies which can double the amount of solar energy generated by solar cells. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a solar thermo photovoltaic device. The device increases the amount of energy solar panel generate by installing an additional layer which harnesses some of the energy wasted by current solar panels.
North America dominated solar powered wheelchair owing to the high incidences of ambulatory disabilities and encouragement for new research undertaking. According to 2014 Disability Status Report – United States, the overall prevalence rate of people with disability was 12.6%. Of the six type of disabilities identified, the highest prevalence was for ambulatory disabilities.
A solar powered wheelchair project designed by the University of Virginia School of Engineering won at the World Cerebral Palsy Day. The students deigned a solar panel with battery improvement to over 40%. The invention is filed through the U.Va. Licensing and Ventures Group.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living’s, National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research awarded Georgia Institute of Technology’s Center for Advanced Communications Policy USD 4.6 million. The funds would be utilized to develop wireless technologies for people with disabilities. Such research funding encourage towards the introduction of improved wheelchairs to provide empowerment to the disable people, giving them equal opportunity towards employment.
Asia Pacific is expected to the fastest growing region in the solar powered wheelchair market owing to the small scales researches taking place and the increasing incidences of mobility disabilities. Moreover, industry players are expanding their business in developing country such as India, which offers a huge potential for the solar powered wheelchairs market in the coming years. Vermeiren, a Belgium based wheelchair manufacturer announced to sell around 40,000 wheelchair units in India. The company would be distributing 40% of its production in India and the rest in Middle East and European market.
Industry players are exploring the solar powered wheelchair market in untapped areas such as Mexico. For instance, Invacare shifted its production of Solara manual wheelchair to Mexico. The step works towards the company strategy on focus on quality system improvements.
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Some of the solar powered wheelchair market contributors are Kyocera Corporation, Beamer Ltd, Ostrich Mobility, Solar Mobility Inc., Invacare Corp., Trina Solar, Yingli Solar, Green Energy, First Solar, SunPower Corporation and Canadian Solar.
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