Upasana Sonigra
3rd December 2018

Rio 2016 Paralympics- The advancement of Wheelchairs

Today sees the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Join millions glued to their TV sets at 8pm on Channel 4.

Team GB are a 264 strong team competing in 19 sports including Athletics, Judo, Triathlon and Wheelchair Basketball. In 2012 the GB Paralympic team celebrated with 120 medals, 34 of which were Gold, which put them an incredible Third place after China and Russia. This year we’re hoping to surpass those numbers and climb the podium further in Brazil.

Channel 4 created this incredible commercial named ” We are the Super Humans” with the audio track ” Yes I Can”, to promote Team GB and the Paralympics. Click the link below to watch


New Technology 

Technology has inspired the next generation of designers and engineers to create mobility aids that enable the Paralympians to perform at their best.

£22 million pounds has been invested into the UK Sports Research and Innovation programme- part Government and part lottery funding, as well as industry based offerings. Which is all aimed at team GB bringing home the gold.

GB Womens Wheelchair Basket Bal

There has been a huge focus on the wheelchairs used in the Athletics and Basketball events. Previously companies would produce wheelchairs for the Athletes and they would personalise them to suit their own needs. Now, thanks to huge funding, companies use leading designs and materials to create the most dynamic models.

Both sports offer different obstacles in terms of the design of the Wheelchair. For basketball, the chairs needed to be strong and incredibly manoeuvrable. It’s a high contact sport (although officially non- contact). Loughborough University were enlisted to research the force exerted by Athletes in a game of Wheelchair Basketball, by placing sensors in the hand rim of the wheel. Formula 1 and McLaren created an indoor tracking system which recorded speed, acceleration and stops over a game, this aided decisions when it came to the modifications of the chairs.

This research enabled manufacturers to create a wheelchair that would be light, rigid and agile, allowing the chair and the athlete to be one unit and so the chair responds to their every movement. The Athletes are fully strapped into the chairs which promote the best use of their energy. But with all the strapping, it could feel like the Athletes were being mummified and so the decision was made to make moulded seats of the Athletes bottoms. 

8 Athletes were selected for moulding. Creating a moulded seat with an all round uniform thickness might prove difficult so BMW came to the rescue.

Computer Aided Design created moulds which were sent to a German factory and using 3D printing, the custom seats were produced.

After months and years of testing, agility of the Athletes in these custom wheelchairs has improved by 6% over a 10 second test.

So, when you’re sat poised for the first of many sporting events during the Rio 2016 Paralympics,  not only are Athletes incredible, their equipment has gone through vigorous training as well.

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