In this chapter, we propose a novel add-on electric drive system for propelling a manual wheelchair on the floor together with an advanced function to climb and descend a step with no human support. The proposed add-on mechanism consists of an active-caster drive wheel and a reconfigurable link mechanism with a linear actuator to change the location of the drive wheel relative to a wheelchair. By attaching the mechanism to a manual wheelchair, we build a five-wheeled wheelchair. Since the drive wheel is attached on the back of the wheelchair, a risk of falling to the back is significantly reduced. To surmount a step with no help, we develop a step-climbing and -descending strategy by using the proposed wheelchair with a reconfigurable link mechanism. The five-wheel configuration guarantees a static stability of the wheelchair when some wheels are hovered from the ground. The function is used in step-climbing and -descending strategies to realize the transfer of a wheelchair user. In order to reduce the effort of a wheelchair user to control the complicated step surmount strategies, semiautomatic system is installed on the prototype wheelchair whose availability is verified through experiments.
Part of the book: Physical Disabilities