Monday, November 30, 2009

Ralf Hotchkiss' RoughRider Wheelchair

The RoughRider Wheelchair is a redesign of the traditional wheelchair, targeted specifically for use in areas of rugged terrain and poor infrastructure as is common in developing nations. In Third-World countries, wheelchairs are very hard to obtain; in fact, only one percent of the twenty million people in need own a wheelchair. The one percent who do most likely have second-hand hospital wheelchairs which are meant only for indoor use. These break easily outdoors and are usually very difficult and expensive to repair.

Ralf Hotchkiss, who began redesigning wheelchairs after he became disabled in a motorcycle accident in college, became aware of the need for a wheelchair better-suited for the rugged terrain of many third world countries. He co-founded Whirlwind Wheelch
air International with Peter Pfaelzer, a fellow engineering design professor in San Francisco. Their goal was to design sturdy wheelchairs that could be easily built and repaired in developing countries from locally available materials. For example, the chair's frame is made from thin-walled steel tubing, which is available almost anywhere. The back wheels are bicycle tires, and the front wheels are Hotchkiss’ own design of flexible rubber, which can be molded in tire retread shops. The RoughRider is designed to be as cheap as possible without compromising quality, making the chair about $150-$175.

designing the RoughRider, Hotchkiss ran into "special challenges" because the bodies and abilities of the people who need the equipment vary, therefore the Rough Rider is designed to be adaptable. The width is adjustable but meant to be much narrower than the hospital model, allowing the rider to reach directly downwards to grasp the hand rims, rather than over an armrest, and so be able to push more strongly. It is also designed to be maneuverable on rough terrain and is therefore 10 pounds lighter than the traditional model. It has a longer wheel base to prevent tipping forward, which is the biggest hazard to wheelchair riders, and has wide, flexible front wheels so as to not get caught in cracks in the road.

So far, Whirlwind Wheelchair has established 50 shops in 35 countries, where they provide on-site training in wheelchair assembly, production, and fitting. They not give away many of the chairs, but their shops provide jobs for the very people they are supplying. In addition, the RoughRider Wheelchair is not patented, therefore there is no cost for its design, and it is constantly being adapted and changed according to users' needs.

Wheels of Change (Video)

Sunday, November 29, 2009


The crux of this semester has surrounded dialogue concerning transportation issues and subsequent diagrams depicting these issues. As designers we inherently wrestle with solutions to problems we may not be able to fix by ourselves. So maybe we take the pressure off of ourselves and onto the public. Maybe just by opening peoples eyes, new realms of possibility and change could appear. This may be an idealistic viewpoint, but even the slightest consideration would be progress.

When considering established forms of transportation, society often interacts at an arms length. They consider what they have been given, what they have to work with and react accordingly. For instance a subway map's agenda is soley focused on getting you to ride the subway, and providing a visual reference to do so. The London Underground map successfully achieved this when it was overhauled by Harry Beck in 1933. And although the map is successful at easing the understanding of riding the Underground, it may not describe the most efficient way to commute in general. As we can see in this map by Steve Prentice, often times the commuter might be better off walking, rather than riding, because the distances between stops is not portrayed accurately. This doesn't discredit the work of Harry Beck, it simply provides an alternative.

Public transportation infrastructure is rapidly becoming outdated and overworked because it can't keep up with the growing numbers and demands of passengers. In New York City, Bus stops have elevated chairs or benches altogether. Many commuters accept this as a fact of life, something that can't be changed. Sit Projects have proven, rather simply that the issue can be improved by simply placing chairs under various bus stops in the city.

"Pragmatically, this arose from the pressing need for an array of benches/seats at bus and subway stops within New York City’s public transportation system. By installing our atypical seating compositions, we encourage people to contemplatively stop, consider their purpose, possibly sit and engage with other local commuters over the curiosity of their current placement."

Sit projects proves that a solution doesn't always have to be perfect to work. They have, if nothing else, opened a dialogue for New York City bus riders about the problem at hand.

By using public property as a means of communicating a concept, and idea can catch on and spread if it is designed well. Heklucht, a concept by Jeroen Bruls and Krijn Christiaansen capitalizes on the idea of multi-functionality; a bike lock with a built in air-pump. It began in
Ypenburg, Netherlands, but has quickly spread to Belgium, Austria and the United Kingdom. By combining two essential products of bike culture and executing it well, they have altered the concept of what a bike lock could be. Heklucht is an excellent example of how design can magnify specific needs in various forms of transportation.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hydrogen Cell Cars

Hydrogen cell cars are cars that use hydrogen as a fuel source. Unlike other “environmental cars” like hybrids (which are a combination of batteries and a gasoline fueled engine) hydrogen fueled cars offer zero emissions. The only bye product of the car is water. By having zero emissions, hydrogen cell cars are considered one of the possible alternative fuels of the future, but they are already here. In 2005 Honda leased the first commercial hydrogen car to a family in Redondo Beach, California. Being in the public market is an important step into hydrogen cell cars becoming more common on the road but there are two main problems that need to be overcome first. One is the cost of hydrogen cars and the other problem is that there is no sizable infrastructure laid out yet (fuel stations, refineries for producing hydrogen, and the transportation of hydrogen). At the moment, the cost for a hydrogen car is quite expensive with a Shelby Cobra costing $149,000. Hydrogen fuel is also expensive; at the moment hydrogen cells can cost as much as one to twenty dollars a kilo. Also, there is not a sizable infrastructure in place yet. At the moment California has the most at 13 (as of 2004), but plan to have around 170 by 2010.

Constructing a sizable infrastructure is the first step towards Hydrogen cell cars. President Bush allocated approximately $2 billion in hydrogen highway research. In Denmark, The Denmark Hydrogen Link Project started in 2005 with the goal of connecting a hydrogen highway infrastructure in N. Germany, Norway and Sweden. “
By 2015, Denmark Hydrogen Link expects to have 85-percent of the governmental cars in Copenhagen converted to hydrogen or electric vehicles. By 2025, Copenhagen is expected to have a 100-percent conversion rate”. Also a gradual shift is needed to ease into the hydrogen cell cars. First, hybrids (gasoline and hydrogen cars) need to be constructed until the cost in making, producing, and creating hydrogen cars drops. With a drop in price and an infrastructure to support it, hydrogen cars will be more accessible to everyone.

Works Cited:

Hydrogen Cars. October 2009. <>.

Llanos, Miguel. “Hydrogen cars ready to roll — for a price.” October 2009. <>.

Hydrogen Link. Hydrogen Link Denmark Association. October 2009. <>.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nissan Land Glider

Unveiled at the 2009 Tokyo Motor Show, the Nissan Land Glider is a concept in a line of green vehicles Nissan plans to begin producing in late 2010. In addition to the Nissan Leaf (which will be the world’s first electric vehicle globally produced on a massive scale), the Land Glider is also a fully functional electric vehicle with zero carbon emissions. Nissan’s new goal is to become the leading zero emissions car manufacturer in the world, starting with the Nissan Leaf, and expanding with the Land Glider. The design of the car is geared towards use in a dense urban surrounding, with a narrow design to try and alleviate the amount of overcrowding on streets, as well as being able to fit in smaller parking spots within the city. The main feature and possibly marketing point, of the car is the fact that it maneuvers much like a motorcycle. A computer controlled steering system instructs the car to lean into turns allowing for enhanced handling and ease while driving. The interior of the car closely resembles a jet cockpit, which can carry up to two people positioned front to back instead of the traditional side to side. The vehicle’s rear view mirrors have been replaced with cameras and monitors, while the dashboard has been outfitted with digital gauges to coincide with its futuristic design. The car will run on battery, a battery that is suspected to be a lot smaller than the Leaf’s due to the lighter nature of the car. As of now, there are currently no plans to place this car into production, but the possible success of the Leaf may sway the company into considering this concept as the more sportier vehicle in their electric line.

Land Glider Video