Feasibility of a novel non-pneumatic wheelchair tyre with adaptive spoke technology

Can a novel wheelchair tyre improve quality of life for wheelchair users by improving wheelchair performance?

Start date:                        1 December 2023

End date:                         1 June 2024

Lead applicant:                Otis Wyatt, Staffordshire University

PI and other Co-Is:          Panagiotis Chatzistergos (PI), Staffordshire University

                                        Nachiappan Chockalingam (Co-I) Staffordshire University

                                        Evangelia Ganniari-Papageorgiou, Warwick University       

Manual wheelchairs are essential assistive technology devices for individuals with reduced mobility, yet research focused on optimising their performance remains scarce. Existing literature highlights problems such as musculoskeletal injuries, back pain, and pressure sores associated with manual wheelchair use. These issues may arise due to current wheelchairs being unable to maximise user comfort, and ease of movement. To address these challenges, this feasibility study proposes implementing Non-Pneumatic Tyres (NPTs) with flexible spoke designs. These tyres are puncture proof, do not require pressure maintenance, and rely on deformable spokes to absorb impacts.

The research question driving this study is whether the adoption of flexible-spoke NPTs can enhance the quality of life for wheelchair users by significantly improving comfort, propulsion efficiency, braking performance, and manoeuvrability while reducing the risk of injuries.

To achieve this, the project will combine computational finite element modelling, statistical modelling, additive manufacturing, and mechanical testing. By designing unique spoke geometries with tuneable mechanical behaviour, these tyres can adapt to different loading conditions relative to wheelchair everyday tasks and can be tuned to account for the needs of specific individual users. This in turn should allow for unmatched levels of comfort, manoeuvrability, and efficiency that is currently unavailable in conventional wheelchairs. Manufacturing and testing of tyre prototypes, and input from wheelchair users in a Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) groups will validate the proposed NPT technology and methods, ensuring their applicability, acceptability, and desirability.

The novelty of this project lies in its groundbreaking approach, as NPTs with flexible-spoke structures have never been used on any type of wheelchair before. Beyond manual everyday wheelchairs, this project's success could unlock opportunities for exploring wheelchair applications in sports and electric wheelchairs, expanding the scope of its impact even further.