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Vol. XXIX No. 19, January 15-31, 2020
Arguably the crown jewel of Chennai’s educational identity, IIT Madras remains highly respected for its work in academic and research projects. Last year alone, the institute announced multiple breakthroughs that show promise of a better, sustainable future. It developed the world’s first iron-ion battery, a low-cost, stable alternative to the present lithium-ion battery; designed an ‘agricopter’ that helps farmers automate pesticide spraying and keep a tab on crop health with an imaging camera; and devised an AI-based disaster management solution called ‘Eye in the Sky’ that utilizes drones to collect and analyze data in real time, to give a few examples.
IIT Madras also houses the Rehabilitation Research and Device Development (R2D2) Lab that focuses on research related to human movement, with the aim of designing solutions to support the differently-abled. Headed by Prof. Sujatha Srinivasan of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Lab hit a noteworthy milestone with its maiden product launch in 2019 – it unveiled ‘Arise’, India’s first prototype of a standing wheelchair.
Standing wheelchairs are assistive technology that make life better for users of conventional wheelchairs, who struggle with a host of health problems due to the prolonged seating position they’re forced to adopt – poor blood circulation, urinary tract infections, joint stiffness and pressure sores are common complaints. Standing wheelchairs, therefore, present a significant advantage – by enabling users to stand, it not only mitigates these problems, but also helps strengthen bone density by allowing the legs to bear weight. Apart from physical benefits, standing wheelchairs also improve the user’s self-esteem and sense of well-being, thanks to the improved independence of mobility and the opportunity to interact with people at eye-level.
While standing wheelchairs are not new as a concept, Arise is notable as the first indigenously developed standing wheelchair from India. Its biggest strength is perhaps its novel mechanical design (patented in India) which allows it to be priced modestly unlike its competitors in the market.
Arise is a manual standing wheelchair designed with a hand-operated, linkage-based mechanism to achieve standing functionality. It uses a gas-spring (adjustable to the user’s weight) to reduce manual effort and enable a smooth transition to the standing position. The product is built with an interlocking mechanism which acts as a safety feature; it secures the wheelchair in a locked state if the knee block is not in position. With a one-time custom fitting session, users are expected to operate the device as easily as they propel their wheelchairs.
The R2D2 Lab from IIT-M partnered with NGOs, hospitals, rehabilitation centres, individual users and clinicians to test the product, incorporating their inputs to further enhance its design. Rigorous mechanical testing was conducted to ensure that the device is rugged and suitable for outdoor use, even in uneven terrain. Arise has reportedly received positive feedback from initial trials with users who sustained spinal injuries.
With commercialization supported by the UK-based foundation Wellcome Trust, Arise will be manufactured and marketed by Phoenix Medical Systems, a company founded by IIT-M alumnus Mr. Sashi Kumar.
Speaking to the future goals of the R2D2 Lab, Prof. Sujatha Srinivasan said, “We have learned a lot during our Arise development journey – the importance of flexible funding focused on impact, the need for a like-minded industry partner and the merit in involving users and the rehabilitation community in the development. We are applying these learnings to our other projects.”