Sunday, April 22, 2018
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A Small, Inexpensive Electric Wheelchair

Tanner Jensen tries out his open-source, electric wheelchair. (Photo credit: Brigham Young University.)
Tanner Jensen tries out his open-source, electric wheelchair. (Photo credit: Brigham Young University.)

Students at Brigham Young University have built a relatively cheap electric wheelchair for small children. Two of them, actually. The chairs are for brothers with Spinal Muscular Atrophy: three-year-old Tanner Jensen and 20-month-old Skyler.

“Working with the Jensen family made the whole project more meaningful,” said Ian Freeman, who worked on the chair. “We knew we had to deliver a working wheelchair for these boys. It gave us a lot of motivation from the very beginning.”

Motorized wheelchairs for little kids are normally very expensive, running as much as $15,000. The BYU chair is made of PVC pipe, can support up to 50 pounds, but costs less than $500 to build. That price tag includes the electronics, joystick, and padded seat. Plans for the open-source wheelchair will be posted on the Open Wheelchair Website.

“It’s amazing to think how this could help families facing this challenge,” said faculty coach Mark Colton. “This capstone project is one of the most satisfying that I’ve done—and one of the best teams I’ve worked with. These students wanted to do something excellent and not just get a good grade.”