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translator: joseph genireviewer: morton bast living with a physicaldisability isn't easy anywhere in the world, but if you live in a countrylike the united states, there's certain appurtenances availableto you that do make life easier. so if you're in a building,you can take an elevator. if you're crossing the street,you have sidewalk cutouts. and if you have to travelsome distance farther than you can do under your own power,there's accessible vehicles,
and if you can't afford one of those, there's accessible public transportation. but in the developing world,things are quite different. there's 40 million people who needa wheelchair but don't have one, and the majority of thesepeople live in rural areas, where the only connections to community,to employment, to education, are by traveling longdistances on rough terrain often under their own power. and the devices usuallyavailable to these people
are not made for that context,break down quickly, and are hard to repair. i started looking at wheelchairsin developing countries in 2005, when i spent the summer assessingthe state of technology in tanzania, and i talked to wheelchair users, wheelchairmanufacturers, disability groups, and what stood out to me is that there wasn't a device available that was designed for ruralareas, that could go fast and efficiently on many types of terrain.
so being a mechanical engineer, being at mit and having lotsof resources available to me, i thought i'd try to dosomething about it. now when you're talkingabout trying to travel long distances on rough terrain, i immediately thought of a mountain bike, and a mountain bike's good at doing this because it has a gear train, and you can shift to a low gearif you have to climb a hill
or go through mud or sand and you get a lot of torquebut a low speed. and if you want to gofaster, say on pavement, you can shift to a high gear, and you get less torque,but higher speeds. so the logical evolution here is to just make a wheelchairwith mountain bike components, which many people have done. but these are two productsavailable in the u.s. that
would be difficult to transferinto developing countries because they're much, much too expensive. and the context i'm talking about is where you need to have a productthat is less than 200 dollars. and this ideal productwould also be able to go about five kilometers a day so youcould get to your job, get to school, and do it on many,many different types of terrain. but when you get home or wantto go indoors at your work, it's got to be small enough and maneuverableenough to use inside.
and furthermore, if you want it to lasta long time out in rural areas, it has to be repairable using the localtools, materials and knowledge in those contexts. so the real crux of the problem here is, how do you make a systemthat's a simple device but gives you a largemechanical advantage? how do you make a mountainbike for your arms that doesn't have the mountainbike cost and complexity? so as is the case with simple solutions,
oftentimes the answer is right in frontof your face, and for us it was levers. we use levers all the time,in tools, doorknobs, bicycle parts. and that moment of inspiration,that key invention moment, was when i was sittingin front of my design notebook and i started thinkingabout somebody grabbing a lever, and if they grabnear the end of the lever, they can get an effectively long lever and produce a lot of torqueas they push back and forth, and effectively get a low gear.
and as they slidetheir hand down the lever, they can push with a smallereffective lever length, but push through a biggerangle every stroke, which makes a faster rotational speed,and gives you an effective high gear. so what's exciting about this system is that it's really, reallymechanically simple, and you could make it using technology that's been around for hundreds of years. so seeing this in practice,
this is the leveraged freedom chair that, after a few years of development, we're now going into production with, and this is a full-time wheelchair user -- he's paralyzed -- in guatemala, and you see he's able to traversepretty rough terrain. again, the key innovation of this technologyis that when he wants to go fast, he just grabs the levers near the pivotsand goes through a big angle every stroke, and as the going gets tougher, he justslides his hands up the levers,
creates more torque, and kindof bench-presses his way out of trouble through the rough terrain. now the big, important point here is that the person is the complexmachine in this system. it's the person that's slidinghis hands up and down the levers, so the mechanism itself can be very simple and composed of bicycle parts youcan get anywhere in the world. because those bicycle parts are so ubiquitously available,they're super-cheap.
they're made by the gazillionsin china and india, and we can source themanywhere in the world, build the chair anywhere,and most importantly repair it, even out in a villagewith a local bicycle mechanic who has local tools, knowledgeand parts available. now, when you want to use the lfc indoors, all you have to do is pullthe levers out of the drivetrain, stow them in the frame, and itconverts into a normal wheelchair that you can use justlike any other normal wheelchair,
and we sized it like a normal wheelchair, so it's narrow enough to fitthrough a standard doorway, it's low enough to fit under a table, and it's small and maneuverableenough to fit in a bathroom and this is important so the usercan get up close to a toilet, and be able to transfer off just like he could in a normal wheelchair. now, there's three importantpoints that i want to stress that i think really hithome in this project.
the first is that thisproduct works well because we were effectively able to combine rigorous engineering scienceand analysis with user-centered design focused on the social and usageand economic factors important to wheelchair usersin the developing countries. so i'm an academic at mit,and i'm a mechanical engineer, so i can do things like look at the typeof terrain you want to travel on, and figure out how muchresistance it should impose, look at the parts we haveavailable and mix and match them
to figure out what sortof gear trains we can use, and then look at the power and forceyou can get out of your upper body to analyze how fast you shouldbe able to go in this chair as you put your armsup and down the levers. so as a wet-behind-the-earsstudent, excited, our team made a prototype, brought that prototype to tanzania,kenya and vietnam in 2008, and found it was terrible because we didn't getenough input from users.
so because we tested itwith wheelchair users, with wheelchair manufacturers,we got that feedback from them, not just articulating their problems,but articulating their solutions, and worked together to go backto the drawing board and make a new design, which we brought backto east africa in '09 that worked a lot better than a normalwheelchair on rough terrain, but it still didn't work wellindoors because it was too big, it was heavy, it was hard to move around, so again with that user feedback,we went back to the drawing board,
came up with a betterdesign, 20 pounds lighter, as narrow as a regular wheelchair, testedthat in a field trial in guatemala, and that advanced the product to the point where we have now that it's goinginto production. now also being engineering scientists, we were able to quantify the performancebenefits of the leveraged freedom chair, so here are some shotsof our trial in guatemala where we tested the lfcon village terrain, and tested people's biomechanical outputs,
their oxygen consumption,how fast they go, how much power they're putting out, both in their regularwheelchairs and using the lfc, and we found that the lfcis about 80 percent faster going on these terrainsthan a normal wheelchair. it's also about 40 percent moreefficient than a regular wheelchair, and because of the mechanicaladvantage you get from the levers, you can produce 50 percent higher torque and really muscle your waythrough the really, really rough terrain.
now the second lessonthat we learned in this is that the constraints on this designreally push the innovation, because we had to hitsuch a low price point, because we had to makea device that could travel on many, many types of terrainbut still be usable indoors, and be simple enough to repair, we ended up with a fundamentallynew product, a new product that is an innovation in a space that really hasn'tchanged in a hundred years.
and these are all merits that are notjust good in the developing world. why not in countries like the u.s. too? so we teamed up with continuum, a local product design firm here in boston to make the high-end version,the developed world version, that we'll probably sell primarilyin the u.s. and europe, but to higher-income buyers. and the final point i wantto make is that i think this project workedwell because we engaged
all the stakeholders that buy into thisproject and are important to consider in bringing the technologyfrom inception of an idea through innovation, validation,commercialization and dissemination, and that cycle has to startand end with end users. these are the people that definethe requirements of the technology, and these are the people that haveto give the thumbs-up at the end, and say, "yeah, it actually works.it meets our needs." so people like me in the academic space, we can do things like innovateand analyze and test,
create data and makebench-level prototypes, but how do you get that bench-levelprototype to commercialization? so we need gap-fillers like continuumthat can work on commercializing, and we started a whole ngoto bring our chair to market -- global research innovation technology -- and then we also teamed up with a bigmanufacturer in india, pinnacle industries, that's tooled up nowto make 500 chairs a month and will make the firstbatch of 200 next month, which will be delivered in india.
and then finally, to get thisout to the people in scale, we teamed up with the largestdisability organization in the world, jaipur foot. now what's powerful about this model is when you bring togetherall these stakeholders that represent each link in the chain from inception of an idea all the way to implementationin the field, that's where the magic happens.
that's where you can takea guy like me, an academic, but analyze and testand create a new technology and quantitatively determinehow much better the performance is. you can connect with stakeholderslike the manufacturers and talk with them face-to-faceand leverage their local knowledge of manufacturingpractices and their clients and combine that knowledgewith our engineering knowledge to create something greaterthan either of us could have done alone. and then you can also engage the end user
in the design process, and notjust ask him what he needs, but ask him how he thinksit can be achieved. and this picture was takenin india in our last field trial, where we had a 90-percentadoption rate where people switched to using our leveraged freedomchair over their normal wheelchair, and this picture specifically is of ashok, and ashok had a spinal injurywhen he fell out of a tree, and he had been working at a tailor,but once he was injured he wasn't able to transporthimself from his house
over a kilometer to his shopin his normal wheelchair. the road was too rough. but the day after he gotan lfc, he hopped in it, rode that kilometer, opened up his shop and soon after landed a contractto make school uniforms and started making money, startedproviding for his family again. ashok: you also encouraged me to work. i rested for a day at home. the next day i went to my shop.
now everything is back to normal. amos winter: and thank youvery much for having me today. (applause)