Startup commercializes assistive wheelchair technology, develops first prototype

October 16, 2015
Alexander Lo, a researcher in the Purdue Center for Paralysis Research, uses an iPad on the RoboDesk. The RoboDesk is an assistive technology being developed at Purdue University to help people with disabilities more easily use iPads and other mobile devices. The company has developed their first prototype in order to bring the technology to market. Credit: Purdue Research Foundation photo

A Purdue startup is commercializing an assistive wheelchair technology that could provide people with disabilities an efficient and easy-to-use method to more easily position and remove an iPad or other mobile device without being limited by a table or moving in and out of the chair. The company has recently developed its first prototype.

Prehensile Technologies, commercializing the technology as RoboDesk, was developed in the laboratory of Brad Duerstock, Purdue University associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, and Li Hwa Chong, a Purdue alumnus, co-founded the company.

Duerstock, who has been developing the technology since 2013 in the Purdue Institute of Accessible Science, said that there are products similar to his on the market but they don't have the same benefits as his technology.

"There are fixed mounted trays that can be affixed to wheelchairs and other seating systems on the market, but they cannot be moved without assistance and restrict the movements of the wheelchair user," he said. "The RoboDesk's removable tray is automatic. It doesn't affect a wheelchair's normal seat functions or inhibit the user's ability to transfer in and out of a wheelchair or maneuver through doorways, which is something that hasn't been done before."

 The RoboDesk uses a motorized mount on a that utilizes an arm to deploy or retract a mobile electronic device such as a tablet or lightweight notebook. The assistive tray's multifunctional design enables it to be used for other purposes, such as a writing surface or meal tray.

Prehensile Technologies will begin beta testing the prototype to improve the technology.

"Having a prototype is the first step to making the RoboDesk available to the public, where it can really start making a difference fostering independence and improving the quality of life for people with disabilities," Duerstock said. "The addition of the prototype will allow us to start beta tests with potential customers so we can make the technology as user-friendly as possible."

The company is performing a comprehensive market analysis as well as researching other market segments where the RoboDesk may be beneficial. Duerstock said the company wants to connect with industry partners.

"Our could be used for almost any seating system including wheelchairs, recliners and beds, widening the scope of whom our product could help," he said. "We want to work with companies who specialize in assistive technologies and those in engineering to help further advance this device based on feedback we receive from our beta tests."

Startup commercializes assistive wheelchair technology, develops first prototype
Brad Duerstock, a Purdue University associate professor of engineering practice in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and School of Industrial Engineering, has licensed the technology to found the startup Prehensile Technologies, along with Li Hwa Chong, a Purdue alumnus. Credit: Purdue Research Foundation photo

Explore further: Site seeks feedback from people with disabilities who are interested in science

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