Atimize – The PneuChair

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Atimize’s PneuChair at Morgan’s Wonderland waterpark (image courtesy of HERL)

Growing up, Brandon Daveler loved the outdoors, adventure and his independence.  In 2005, a motorcycle accident fractured his spine leaving him paralyzed. The young man who preferred doing things for himself had to ask for help, even with simple tasks. It was a setback, but he didn’t let that stop him.

After graduating high school and earning an engineering degree at Penn State, Brandon went to the University of Pittsburgh to do graduate work at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL).

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Test driving a PneuChair in Pitt’s HERL work space

Knowing what it was like to rely on others for help, he wanted to create something that would enable people with disabilities to live more independently.  His first project was a Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair or MEBot.  The chair was equipped with special treads and wheels that enabled it to climb steps and curbs.  Brandon knew this would help to remove some of the obstacles he and other wheelchair users faced every day.

After earning his master’s degree, Brandon set his sights on a PhD.  His next project was the PneuScooter.

Powered by compressed air instead of batteries, this pneumatic chair is more economical and convenient for use in large box stores, long-term care facilities and other businesses with fleets of wheelchairs.  Compared to the electric scooters common to those locations, it’s lighter, faster to recharge, there are no batteries to replace, and it’s waterproof.

Working with HERL and the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, Brandon has received valuable business advice and mentoring from people like Rory Cooper, a distinguished inventor, bioengineer, and world-renowned expert in wheeled mobility and a pioneer in wheelchair technology.  Cooper began using wheelchairs after his own cycling accident in 1980.

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(L to R) Rory A. Cooper, Director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories; Garrett Grindle, Assistant Director for Engineering; Brandon Daveler, Graduate Student Researcher and Benjamin Gebrosky, Testing Engineer who is sitting in a PneuChair prototype.

Recently a representative from Morgan’s Wonderland, a waterpark in Texas designed for children with special needs, contacted Cooper at Pitt.  They were looking for a powered wheelchair that could get wet. Cooper and Daveler took what they learned developing the PneuScooter and created the PneuChair, an air-powered wheelchair.

Today, the waterpark has several chairs in use and is acting as a test site for the PneuChair, giving the HERL team important user feedback on ways to improve the chair design.

Since premiering at the park, the PneuChair has gotten the attention of other recreation sites, national parks, emergency management agencies, and major corporations.

In many ways, being an entrepreneur has allowed Brandon to enjoy his independence again.  He has formed a new company named Atimize and plans to refine the PneuChair and the PneuScooter until they are available commercially. After that, he’ll continue to look for other ways to help people with disabilities live more independently.


Transcript:

When walking is difficult wheelchairs are great solutions, but they have limitations.

Brandon Daveler: As a wheelchair user myself I understand.

Brandon Daveler is a Graduate Student Researcher at the University of Pittsburgh working on enhancing wheelchair technology.

His team has created a pneumatic chair – or PneuChair — propelled purely by compressed air. It’s perfect for water enthusiasts.

Brandon Daveler: Because there’s no electronics or batteries or anything. So there’s no risk of them getting shocked.

The chair will give people with disabilities who need powered mobility access to water parks, beaches and pools.

Brandon’s team has received a lot of support from Pitt’s Innovation Institute and Human Engineering Research Laboratory.

Brandon Daveler: From basically an idea that we have all the way through having an actual prototype created and tested.

Pitt connected Brandon with a work space, funding sources, and world class experts on wheelchair design.

A PneuScooter is being developed for big box stores, long-term care facilities and other places that have fleets of wheelchairs.

Brandon Daveler: Definitely would like to do some more research and development into improving power mobility. But right now. I’m strictly focused on getting the PneuChair and the PneuScooter out in the world.

Learn more about the PneuChair and other innovative ideas at W I T F (dot) ORG (Slash) Innovation.


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Find more information about Atimize and the PneuChair at https://www.innovation.pitt.edu/innovating-for-independence/

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The Innovation Institute provides a comprehensive suite of services for Pitt Innovators, from protecting intellectual property to the commercialization of new discoveries through licensing and/or new enterprise development. The Institute also provides a wealth of educational programming, mentoring and networking for Pitt faculty, students and partners.

Learn more about the Innovation Institute at https://www.innovation.pitt.edu/

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The Human Engineering Research Laboratories are a part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as the Center for Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering.  Their mission is to continuously improve the mobility and function of people with disabilities through advanced engineering in clinical research and medical rehabilitation.

Learn more about HERL at https://www.herl.pitt.edu/

Support for Innovation U comes from PNC.


Innovation U is a project from WITF, where we share stories of entrepreneurs and Pennsylvania universities who are working together to make new ideas come to life.  Learn more at witf.org/innovation


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