Engineers at the University of Texas at Arlington have developed a new seat cushion for wheelchairs that works in an intelligent way to prevent the development of pressure ulcers. Decubitus ulcers come about when the same part of the body experiences applied pressure for long periods of time. There are cushions and mattresses made of groups of inflatable sections that regularly inflate and deflate, changing which parts of the body experience the pressure.
The UT Arlington team improved on this by including pressure sensors into their cushion that are able to create a pretty detailed map of where pressure has been applied, how much, and for how long. Taking this data into account, the cushion inflates and deflates sections so as to transfer the pressure to a different part from one that has been supporting the body for too long.
So far their prototype, which has already been patented, has been tried with healthy volunteers, demonstrating an ability to constantly monitor the pressure distribution and to offload the pressure when it lasts too long in one spot.
Certainly next steps will include getting the device toward commercialization and trying it with people that are forced to spend their days in a wheelchair.