Hackaday Prize Entry: TooWheels, The Open Source Wheelchair

The Assistive Technology challenge of the Hackaday Prize received a large number of projects addressing many socially relevant problems. Mobility and transportation needs are a big challenge for those with limb disabilities. Not every country has proper, state-subsidised health care systems, and for many people in third world countries, devices such as wheel chairs are just not affordable. [Alessio Fabrizio] and his team developed TooWheels — an Open Source DIY wheelchair which can be customized and built using low-cost, local materials around the world and is one of the winners of the Assistive Technologies challenge round.

Originally conceived as a sport wheelchair, it has now evolved to answer different needs, due to feedback from the users and the community involved in the project. [Alessio] designed the project to be built from materials and resources easily available to any DIY maker at today’s Fab Labs and Makerspaces. The team have provided a detailed BOM to help procure all the required materials, instruction manual and drawings for assembly, and all the CAD files with customization instructions. Already, teams in Ecuador, India and Italy have replicated and built their own version of the TooWheel wheelchair. This confirms that the project is well documented and allows anyone around the world to download the plans and follow instructions to build their own wheelchair.

The wheelchair is built from CNC cut plywood sheets, aluminum pipes and bicycle parts and wheels. This makes it substantially cheaper compared to commercial wheelchairs, making it especially relevant for people in third world areas or where health care is not subsidised. The ease of customization allows fabrication of different wheelchair designs for sports, off-road or city use. The team is looking to bring this low-cost design to people around the world and are keen to collaborate with teams around the world to make it happen.

17 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: TooWheels, The Open Source Wheelchair

  1. Not every country has proper, state-subsidised health care systems, and for many people in third world countries, devices such as wheel chairs are just not affordable.

    Sadly, some first world countries have the same problem. Great to see projects like this!

    1. You beat me to it. As someone who has need for assistive mobility devices, I find it a bit frustrating when people assume that I can afford what I need because I live in the US. This simply isn’t true, and insurance (that I pay dearly for!) is no help.
      While I applaud things like this, and I applaud all efforts to improve the lives of impoverished people in developing nations, they simply aren’t the only folks around that need this kind of help.
      Big kudos to [Alessio Fabrizio] and his team. I hope that people in all parts of the world will take up this kind of work to help those in their various communities that have special needs.

  2. I mean, someone enlighten me if I missed the point here, but what exactly is noteworthy about this?

    I mean I understand open-sourcing plans for complex devices that might require significant engineering work to develop otherwise, but a wheel chair isn’t terribly complex. Its a chair with wheels. Most people of reasonable intelligence with access to materials could figure out how to build it.

  3. As a differently able person who had grown used to my formerly competitively athletic capable body which I used, abused, and broke working as a professional in fire & rescue/EMS I can say that in the same ways normals often buy competition grade athletic shoes, carbon bicycles, and sports cars; I also think most folk who rely on assistive tech like a wheelchair want the fastest and baddest assed one available. Double down on the fact that we have so many disadvantages with the tools we come equipped with or are left with it is nice to at least have a wheelchair that can make up some speed on a downhill and still take a turn at speed. Hell if I could have Ripley’s loader suit(Forklift suit form Aliens) I think I would wear it everywhere except to bed. For a relative with MD it is where we might actually have to go if he gets all Steven Hawking, I might have to draw the line with my kid over including a robocop concealed thigh holster and eye queued targeting system. That said everyone wants to be a badass, but I think especially old normie badasses who had that taken away the hit is harder to be on the other side of the glass. There is no virtue in forced humility, IMHO all assistive tech should be as bleeding edge awesome as reliability permits, this is essentially as much of our body as your thighs, femurs, or biceps.

  4. I always wondered how could it be that a wheelchair, that has less components than a bicycle costs much more than a bicycle, and I mean the ones made of two wheels and a couple meters pipe. Absurd is not strong enough to describe what a rip-off the whole is.

    1. You are seeing economy of scale at work.

      Not to dismiss your point. I think it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges we are facing: you’ve got to be huge to be relevant. You’ve got to invest an enormous sum to start off huge. I think that leads to an unstable system… but perhaps I’m just too much of an engineer.

    1. A CNC is just a rapid cutting tool. Everything you can do with a CNC router can be done by person and a variety of tools. I’m sure this could be cut out by hand with nothing more than a hack saw and a chisel. It might suck and take a while, but possible.

      With a slightly more advanced setup, you can use a handheld router and fabricate a few jigs to make easily repeatable cutouts with the router using flush trim bits.

      The real takeaway is that the plans are available and open.

    1. Stainless steel spokes you can buy off the shelf are supposed to have a tensile strength of something like 1100N/mm^2…and they even make spokes which can do over double of that…
      Unless the rim is really flimsy, you don’t really need that many spokes, since you’re not jumping on the wheel.

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