Layer are a strategic industrial design agency, who set up a research division (LayerLAB) in 2016, to investigate new applications for emerging technologies and materials with the potential to meaningfully improve quality of life.
LayerLAB’s inaugural project is GO, a made-to-measure 3D-printed consumer wheelchair.
What was the inspiration behind the GO Wheelchair?
We were interested in understanding how people use and misuse the most important tools in their lives. With the GO wheelchair, we saw an opportunity to really progress the manual mobility category for users with disabilities, and to use 3D printing technology to solve significant and meaningful problems.
The Wheelchair has been designed to fit the individual needs of a wide range of disabilities and lifestyles, please can you explain how this works?
The GO wheelchair comprises two 3D-printed made-to-measure elements – the seat and foot-bay – combined with a number of standard GO wheelchair components. The form of the custom elements is driven by 3D digital data derived from mapping each user’s biometric information, and the resulting wheelchair accurately fits each individual’s body shape, weight and disability to reduce injury and increase comfort, flexibility, and support.
The GO wheelchair seat is 3D-printed in two materials – a semi-transparent resin with an integrated matrix of TPU that acts as shock-absorption. The TPU system is located in the sitting area and acts as a living hinge suspension system that improves ride comfort for the user.
Wheelchair users are seated for up to 18 hours each day and associated injuries and discomfort are commonplace. The made-to-measure seat of the GO wheelchair accurately fits a user’s form, helping to reduce pressure points and the issues they cause.
The seat’s centre of gravity relative to the chairs wheelbase is also calculated in the body-mapping process, and the seat is manufactured to respond to the user’s weight and optimise performance.
Optional elements for the GO wheelchair can be integrated in the 3D-printed seating system via the GO app. These elements include:
- transfer bars – used to transfer in and out of the chair
- push bars – to enable assisted movement
- wheel guards – to protect users from the wheels
The geometry of the 3D-printed titanium foot-bay, with integrated anti-slip surface texture, accurately reflects the user’s leg length, foot shape, and sitting position as determined by the body-mapping process.
The lightweight titanium frame has been designed to have a reduced number of struts. This puts the user and their needs first, minimising the visual weight of the wheelchair but still offering the necessary functionality.
The wheels of the GO wheelchair have lightweight carbon-fibre spokes and over-moulded high-grip push rims that, in combination with the GO gloves, deliver a higher power-to-push ratio, especially in wet conditions.
What research did you do for the project?
The GO wheelchair is the result of intensive research conducted by Layer, with dozens of wheelchair users and medical professionals. The studio investigated how to remove the stigma associated with wheelchairs as medical devices and instead create a more human-centered vehicle to improve the everyday lives of users.
One of the primary concerns of wheelchair users who took part in the research conducted by the studio was the stress and strain involved in self-propelling.
The GO wheelchair has super tactile push rims with a surface designed to lock into the GO wheelchair glove system, also designed by Layer, to deliver greater power-to-push ratio. This unique system – the first of its kind – decreases the risk of injury and painful conditions common to wheelchair users, such as arthritis in the shoulders.
Please can you tell us more about the 3D-Printing and how you were able to develop your design? Did you have a collaborator in that field?
3D Printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. For the GO wheelchair, 3D printing for manufacture was the most appropriate and powerful technology available to capture each individual’s unique body shape to enhance the form and format of a very necessary product and provide exceptional performance.
We teamed up with 3D Printing innovators, Materialise, to create an end-to-end customisation process. An integral part of the Materialise ethos is to develop meaningful applications of 3D printing that have a positive impact on individuals’ lives.
The accompanying GO app allows users to participate in the design process, can you explain how this works?
We designed the GO app to accompany the wheelchair, to allow users to participate in the design process by specifying optional elements, patterns and colourways to fit a wider set of needs and desires. Once biometric information has been recorded and users have specified optional elements, the order is placed via the GO app. The GO wheelchair can be manufactured and delivered in two weeks rather than the 6-8 week leadtime it typically takes for a customised wheelchair.
What was the time frame involved, from ideation to launch?
The research was carried out over a six-month insight gathering period which formed part of a two-year development cycle.
What were the design challenges?
The foot plate was produced with Metal 3D Printing in Aluminum to demonstrate how the part would behave on a production ready model and to provide strength and durability. The cushioning structure that sits within the seat to provide comfort and support was produced with Laser Sintering in TPU material, selected for its flexibility and strength.
What recognition has the GO Wheelchair received?
GO has won the Co.Design innovation by design award, is in the running for an index award, and was best of 2016 by Azure Magazine!
Layer focuses on creating meaningful experiences based on extensive research and human behaviours, incorporating user experience design, user interaction design, branding, and human-centred research. What is the current project you are working on?
We’ve been busy in the studio bringing Nolii to life – a new lifestyle-led tech accessories brand that helps you do more with your tech so you can be more focused on the important things in life. Launching in September at Somerset House as part of Design Frontiers for London Design Festival.
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