UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science


Sensewheel joins Health Social Innovators Programme

7 November 2014

Mr Peter Smitham (IOMS), Dr Steve Taylor (IOMS) and Dr Catherine Holloway (CEGE) have been awarded the Health and Social Innovators Award for the 'Sensewheel Project'.  The project has received £40k from UCLB so far and was developed at the John Scales Centre for Biomedical Engineering at the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science. The full announcement can be seen here.


Manual wheelchair users rely on their upper extremity to self-propel their wheelchair, which have to stop and start repeatedly, across various terrains, in longitudinal, cross slope, and uneven surfaces. Many users suffer shoulder pain and injury in the long term because of unconscious overuse. Training in pushing style has the potential to alleviate pain, with resulting NHS savings.

Sensewheel  is a lightweight wheel for wheelchair users with embedded load cells and accelerometers to measure how the wheelchair is being utilised, thereby gathering data to refine the individual’s rehabilitation programme using movement metrics. It has been designed by the BIG@PAMELA team based within the UCL’s Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, and developed at the John Scales centre for Biomedical Engineering at the Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science at Stanmore.

The instrumentation is very lightweight, low cost, potentially showerproof, and enables immediate feedback to the user about the style of propulsion, enabling quick corrections to be assessed. Forces acting between the pushrim and the drivewheel are sensed by several strain gauged load cells. Data are digitised and transmitted to a separate data logger for processing and data display. The aim is for the user to have immediate feedback on their pushing efficiency displayed on their SmartPhone.

Accessibility information for wheelchair users should, in the main, be delivered by wheelchair users who will have a much greater understanding of their needs than any non-wheelchair user may have. In addition this information needs to be current and so constantly updated. Inherent in this approach is the belief that such a data set would be useful to town planners and also medical practitioners working in the areas of rehabilitation and wheelchair provision. In this regard it is an innovation leap in terms of the usual approaches to accessibility.