OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Dec. 6, 1996 -- Some of the barriers faced every day by people in powered wheelchairs may soon be removed because of an invention licensed to a new company in Florida by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORN L).
Cybertrax Innovative Technologies of Tampa plans to introduce its revolutionary, omnidirectional wheelchair in the spring. These highly maneuverable, battery-powered vehicles, made possible by developments at ORNL, allow for total freedom of motion, meaning an operator can maneuver with 360-degree free wheeling capability. Cybertrax plans to call the wheelchair the TransRovr (TRANSportable Roving Omnidirectional Vehicle Replacement).
"I like to explain it by telling people this wheelchair is perfect for parallel parking," said co-inventor Stephen Killough of ORNL's Robotics and Process Systems Division. "Because it is so highly maneuverable, it can also go into tight corners."
Killough and colleague Francois Pin developed the mathematics and engineering necessary for the TransRovr's revolutionary maneuvering characteristics. Their patented invention consists of new algorithms and innovative engineering that evolved from their work on a DOE project that focused on developing mobile robots to work in hazardous environments. The invention won an R&D 100 Award in 1993 as one of the year's most significant technological innovations.
"This is a prime example of how we can use knowledge gained in a specific area for a particular purpose for other worthwhile endeavors," Killough said.
Cybertrax will integrate several unique technologies into its power wheelchairs; however, ORNL's invention is the heart of the TransRovr. Other significant advances include improved seating technology for enhanced ergonomics, rapid battery recharging and internal recharging offering increased convenience and dramatically reduced down time.
The TransRovr's lightweight, three-piece modular construction makes the wheelchair easy to pick up and transport in a car's trunk or back seat. The seat portion of the unit, expected to be provided by Superior Unlimited Corp. of Bristol, sits atop a platform propelled by three spherical casters. A spin-on-itself turning capability eliminates the wide turning radius typical of conventional power wheelchairs.
"These revolutionary maneuvering characteristics maximize operating efficiency by eliminating wasted moves, time and power consumption," said Terry Lewis, president and chief executive officer of Cybertrax. "For the first time, people, not products, determine the shortest, smartest and most practical route between two points."
Lewis, who expects Cybertrax to employ 20 to 30 people, plans to introduce the TransRovr to the market by May, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Its cost should be competitive with conventional electric wheelchairs, he said.
Funding for the research that led to this invention was provided by DOE's Basic Energy Sciences.
ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram research facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp.