Samantha Sumpter

The wheelchair fitness tracker – Individual Empowerment, Global Applications

According to the World Health Organization, 1% of the population (that’s 65 million people globally) uses a wheelchair. However, despite the popularity of fitness-tracking devices and wearables (an estimated 25 million fitness trackers were sold in 2015 alone), this demographic continues to be overlooked and its individuals unable to participate in the fitness-tracking phenomenon.

Basically, there’s never before been a fitness tracker designed specifically for wheelchair users… so we built one.

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The Idea

This project was born out of an idea from a former employee, a content designer and wheelchair user.

While fitness trackers were (and continue to be) extremely popular, with devices from the likes of Jawbone and Fitbit allowing people to track various types of data, the wheelchair community was being completely overlooked. After talking with his sister, an occupational therapist, the designer came to our in-house innovation lab and R&D department with a question: Would it be possible to create a fitness tracker specifically designed for this demographic?

The team immediately discussed this and saw an awesome opportunity. After consulting with professionals who work with wheelchair users on a daily basis, we recognized that the muscles used to move the chair, the need for inclination and declination sensors, geo tracking and mapping, and the chair itself all introduced unique variables to take into consideration for fitness tracking.

With this revelation and plenty of research and experimentation, plus input and insight from the real end users, the Wheelchair Fitness Tracker was born.

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The Tech

One of the challenges we had to overcome was finding a way to collect the weight, speed and orientation of the chair for an accurate fitness-tracking algorithm.

We conceived and created a wheelchair fitness tracker that is affixed to the wheelchair, out of the way of the user, and incorporates various types of tech: Hall effect sensors, which read the rotation of the wheels and are used to determine speed and effort of the user when pushing; gyroscopes and barometers, which determine the incline or decline of the chair, along with altitude; and a bluetooth LE, which translates information to the accompanying mobile app.

The collected data—when combined with BMI, heart rate, etc.—is then used to calculate desired fitness-related information like calorie burn and more.

With the wheelchair fitness tracker, wheelchair users (athletes and otherwise) have a way to measure their health and fitness like able-bodied individuals, to challenge themselves and to engage in friendly competition.

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The Future

This device gives those in wheelchairs access to important health and fitness data, but that’s not all—there are applications for the future as well. While every individual is enjoying the fitness-tracking benefits of the device, they’re also automatically gathering and recording information about their environment that can benefit everyone.

As the wheelchair user travels through the city, the device is continuously tracking and recording their route and data that can, when aggregated, be used with GPS info for terrain mapping. All the sudden, simply by engaging in day-to-day activities, users have together mapped a neighborhood, trail or entire city’s incline and decline. This information isn’t just useful for wheelchair users, but also hikers, bikers, the elderly individuals who have difficulty walking, or anyone who wants to plot a more uphill or downtown route from point A to point B.

Individual empowerment, global applications. The Wheelchair Fitness Tracker is innovation in motion.

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Samantha Sumpter

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