EC.721 | Spring 2009 | Undergraduate

Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries


This page includes descriptions of proposed projects, selected 2009 projects, and an archive of selected projects from prior years.

Project Objectives

Projects were defined in collaboration with our community partners. Each addresses a specific need and will greatly enhance the productivity and product quality of the workshops. These projects are not set in stone; new projects can be defined and the existing projects can be modified or combined. Ideally each project will have three to five students, but this is obviously dependent on enrollment. Funded fellowships offered through WDDC will allow students to implement these projects into the partners’ wheelchair workshops during the summer.

Community Partners

List of community partners and contact information

Proposed Projects

Students considered nine project proposals at the start of the term, ultimately selecting four to be developed.

Milestone Schedule

Week 2: Choose project teams

Week 3: Hold first lab meeting; contact team mentors and community partners; define functional requirements

Week 4: Strategy presentations due

Week 7: Concept presentations

Week 11: Most critical module (MCM) presentations

Week 14: Poster and presentation for MIT Museum

Week 15: Final presentation of project with a working prototype


Components list with prices, for Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia: proj_complist.xls (XLS)

  • This file lists some available components with pricing for Kenya (bicycle, bearings, steel), Tanzania (bicycle), and Zambia (bicycle, bearings). Most steel components listed for Kenya are also available in Tanzania and Zambia; check with your partner contact if you have questions.

Material analysis of commonly available mild steel tubing sizes, proj_steel.xls (XLS)

2009 Projects


Tricycle Attachment

This project continued the work of the 2008 handcycle attachment team, making several essential refinements: simpler and faster to attach, lower in mass, lower cost, and improved aesthetics.

Power-assisted Tricycle (PDF)

This group worked with the Association of the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK) to add a power assist for heir tricycle wheelchair. The design would allow users who need to travel long distances to move more quickly and not have to rely soley upon their body power. The power assist might, for instance, help the trike user operate a delivery service.
Small Business/Education Wheelchair Attachments This team built on the work done during the 2008 class.
“Worldwide Mobility” Web-Based Donation Network This team built on the work done during the 2008 class.

Prior Project History

2009 was the third year of WDDC. The following projects were done in 2007 and 2008, and some formed the basis for 2009 projects.

Folding 3-Wheeled Wheelchair This project designed a new frame that will allow three-wheeled wheelchairs to fold small enough to be used on public transportation.

Handcycle Attachment

This project designed a handcycle attachment for a for standard 4-wheel wheelchair. This gives the owner the mobility advantages of a standard wheelchair in tight spaces, and adds the handcycle benefits to the chair — power and speed to cover long distances on very poor paths — after only a few movements.

Small Business Attachments for Wheelchairs

This project created a desk + storage attachment that helps its owner run a small business, such as phone card sales or repairing broken items, from their chair.

Web-Based Donation Network

This project designed a Web-based network that allows donors to fund the purchase of appropriately-designed wheelchairs for disabled people in developing countries. During the following summer, work continued on legal and financial issues involved in transferring money internationally, as well as a more complete implementation of the Web network.
Wheelchair Accessories for Women This project designed a device (a box attachment) for women to help them carry various objects around in a wheelchair.
2-speed tricycle drivetrain Students designed a 2-speed “figure-eight” drivetrain for hand-powered tricycles. The drivetrain works by combining a series of bicycle freewheels to obtain one speed by pedaling forwards and one by pedaling backwards, all without a derailleur.
Folding 3-wheeled wheelchair This project designed a folding system for 3-wheeled wheelchairs built in Africa. Enabling the chair to fold greatly increases how easily it can be transported on a bus or in the trunk of a taxi. The key of the team’s design is a novel joint/coupling that uses stacked angle iron to exactly constrain the front wheel to the frame. This design can be retrofitted onto any existing African-made 3-wheelers.
Improved tricycle frame This project designed a new tricycle frame that is stronger and lighter than currently produced frames. They analyzed available materials in Africa and generated a comparison of strength/weight, cost/weight, etc. to find the most appropriate tubing for use in mobility aids. Elements of their design were incorporated into the APDK 2-speed tricycle.
Marketing strategies The aim of this project was to improve marketing strategies of small wheelchair workshops. The team produced a logo and brochure for the KCMC wheelchair workshop, as well an info packet that informs wheelchair users about issues that may arise from a poorly fitted wheelchair. All of the materials have been translated into Swahili and printed in Tanzania. A student who continued this project as a summer fellowship also produced a manual that teaches people how to make and post a Web site from an internet cafe for free.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009
Learning Resource Types
Demonstration Videos
Image Gallery
Lecture Notes
Projects with Examples