All-Terrain Wheelchair


There are an estimated 40 million people in developing countries who need wheelchairs to get around for work and home. However, many of these people live in rural areas with rough terrain and have a low income. Standard wheelchairs are expensive and are not designed for rough terrain.

In a great case of innovation and design, engineers at MIT took on the problem of mobility by reworking a wheelchair design that had not been changed in more than 100 years. With the customer at the center of the design, the product requirements included a chair that cost less than $200, could navigate 5 kilometers/day of varied terrain, be usable indoors, and be repairable locally with standard bike parts. The result – a combination wheelchair and all-terrain trike. The product, Leveraged Freedom Chair, has a drivetrain made of inexpensive bike parts that are available even in remote rural areas.

View the video at TED Talks to learn how this revolutionary chair was designed and produced.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the process of innovation.
  2. Show the TED Talks video:
  3. View the company’s Web site:
  4. Divide students into teams and have each team map the innovation process against the process used by the company.
  5. Have each team brainstorm on other products that could be reimagined and reengineered to meet social needs for people with disabilities.

Source: TED, National Geographic

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