Electric wheelchairs, also known as electric-powered wheelchairs or motorised wheelchairs, are usually used by individuals who have limited mobility or no mobility due to severe ailments. Unlike manual wheelchairs, motorised wheelchairs are propelled by electrically based power source, typically motors and batteries.
Traditionally such wheelchairs are moved via a hand-operated joystick, however advances in technology now mean they can also be manoeuvred using a head stick or even sip and puff devices – which work by users sucking or blowing air into a straw mounted on their wheelchair to execute basic commands that drive the chair.
Highly manoeuvrable, due to their ability to rotate 360 degrees on one spot, electric wheelchairs are essentially available in three different categories, rear wheel drive, mid wheel drive and a front wheel – each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Rear wheel drive variants are the most common type of electric wheelchairs. They offer the advantages of better performance at high speeds, as well as the ability to handle challenging terrain due to good stability. The overall size of the wheelchair’s footprint and the turning radius can, however, make them more difficult to move in tight spaces.
Centre-wheel drive options have gained popularity due to the increased manoeuvrability they offer users, especially in confined spaces, due to being the tightest-turning wheelchairs. Such variants are less adept at climbing obstacles.
Front-wheel drive wheelchairs are effective at handling obstacles and considered to have good stability. Such chairs can “fishtail” at higher speeds, so these chairs tend to have lower top speeds than other drive configurations.
Much like motorised vehicles, such as cars and motorbikes, over recent years cutting-edge technologies such as spring suspension, pneumatic brakes and even hydraulic systems have been integrated into electric wheelchair designs – further improving both endurance and drivability.