Engineering students at the University of Virginia won first place in a design competition for World Cerebral Palsy Day. Their winning entry was this solar powered wheelchair which can run indefinitely at low speeds. Josie Pipkin of UVA Today reports:
The wheelchair concept was inspired by the design of retractable roofs on convertible cars. The chair uses lightweight and robust materials and high-efficiency solar cells with custom-fabricated solar panels that encompass over one square meter when deployed without adding significantly to its length, width, height or weight when stored. The wheelchair can operate for more than 4½ hours at a speed of 5 mph on a fully charged battery, a range increase of more than 40 percent over batteries alone, and can run indefinitely at a speed of 1 mph on solar power alone, without using the battery.
The solar panels charge batteries even under cloudy conditions and have the added benefit of providing shade for the wheelchair occupant on sunny days. The single switch operation means that anyone who can use a joystick can operate the chair. The overall design includes standard wheelchair amenities such as a seatbelt, armrests, footrest and adjustable seating. In addition, USB power outlets are provided to charge modern peripherals such as cellphones, GPS navigation, tablet computers and items such as a fan and a reading light.