University of Pittsburgh HERL Introduces Air-Powered Wheelchair

The University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have introduced a wheelchair that is propelled by compressed air.

The PneuChair was introduced April 7 at Morgan’s Wonderland, a San Antonio, Texas, theme park and playground that is entirely wheelchair accessible.

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Because it doesn’t have batteries, the PneuChair weighs about 80 lbs. and is waterproof. Morgan’s Wonderland will be using the PneuChair at its new Inspiration Island water park, opening this spring. The park expects to have an initial inventory of 10 PneuChairs produced by Stealth Products, according to a news announcement.

The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, which created and funds Morgan’s Wonderland, reached out to HERL Director Rory Cooper, Ph.D., a year ago and also provided funding for the PneuChair project.

In the news announcement, Cooper said, “Morgan’s Inspiration Island’s need and our HERL research are essentially an ideal match. The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative. In addition, PneuChair users not only will be able to experience wet environments but also take advantage of the chair’s lighter weight, less recharging time and less-complex mechanical structure than traditional battery-operated wheelchairs.” 

PneuChair has about a three-mile range, far less than typical power wheelchairs that run on batteries. But the PneuChair can also be recharged far more quickly — in just 10 minutes.

Gordon Hartman, who launched his foundation and named the resulting theme park after his daughter who has special needs, said, “We want Morgan’s Inspiration Island physically challenged guests to be able to enjoy our new splash park to the max. Besides, guests who rely on expensive power chairs for mobility can’t afford to get them wet, so we reached out to Dr. Cooper and his team for a solution.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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