The University of Pittsburgh unveiled Friday at Morgan's Wonderland Theme Park in San Antonio, Texas, its new invention, a compressed air-powered wheelchair to be called PneuChair. Around ten of these waterproof wheelchairs will be made available for use at Morgan's Inspiration Island, the theme park's new splash park, when it opens in spring this year. This will be the first ultra-accessible splash park in the world that aims to provide park attractions to the special-needs community. The wheelchairs are expected to play a significant role in fulfilling the park's goal of providing inclusive entertainment to guests with special needs.
The University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research laboratories (HERL) designed, developed and built the PneuChair. The compressed air-powered wheelchair, still with a pending patent application, weighs 80 pounds. It sources its energy from a high-pressure air in lieu of electronics or heavy batteries and only has a 10-minute recharging time. The waterproof wheelchair has a faster recharge time compared to other electric-powered mobility devices that take up to eight hours to recharge.
HERL was already working on the PneuChair concept when it was asked by Sports Outdoor and Recreation (SOAR) to help develop a mobility chair for the splash park, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation operates Morgan's Wonderland through SOAR, a non-profit organization. HERL and SOAR are` now looking into the mass production and distribution of the compressed air-powered wheelchairs.
"It dawned on me that the real demand would be for use at pools, beaches, and water parks," University of Pittsburgh-HERL Director Tory Cooper said. "Wheelchairs don't work in wet conditions, with their batteries and electronics."
Most battery-operated mobility chairs do not only involve a lot of electronics, but they also work well only in dry conditions. Since the wheelchairs will be used for the splash park, then the PneuChair waterproof wheelchairs would be greatly needed. Cooper, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, is hoping to start production of the waterproof wheelchairs before the year ends, according to the University of Pittsburgh.
Gordon Hartman, founder of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, saw the waterproof wheelchairs for the first time during the unveiling. He said the finished product was a lot better than he thought. More importantly, he said, it will make the splash park truly accessible to people with special needs. The PneuChair was named after the pneumatic power that allows the chair to travel at a top speed of 5 miles per hour and travel a three-mile distance before it requires recharge by an air compressor.