A prototype stair-climbing wheelchair has been developed by Swiss students. Jim Drury met them in Zurich.
This is Scalevo, an electric wheelchair that climbs staircases. On the ground it's a traditional wheelchair. But at the touch of a screen, two rubber tank-like tracks descend, allowing the user to travel up stairs backwards. SOUNDBITE (English) CARLOS GOMES, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MASTERS STUDENT, ETH ZURICH, SAYING: "We have two main wheels, two large wheels to drive around on the flat ground in a balancing mode like a Segway. And then we have two rubber tracks which we can extend to the angle of the stairs and let the wheelchair be always upright on every angle on the stairs." SOUNDBITE (English) MIRO VOELLMY, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MASTERS STUDENT, ETH ZURICH, SAYING: "The great thing is that everything on this wheelchair is automated. If I want to climb the stairs I can just drive up to them, turn around, press one button and all I have to do is control the velocity I want to drive at. The alignment on the stairs, the levelling of the wheelchair driver, is automated and he can control it, he can view the back with a back facing camera, and have a full, safe, driving experience." In tests it negotiated various stairs at around one step per second - easily managing a spiral staircase. The team thinks Scalevo could negate the necessity for access ramps and in-house stair lifts, and give wheelchair users a chance to avoid out-of-the-way lifts. Despite the large tracks they say it's also comparatively compact. SOUNDBITE (English) MIRO VOELLMY, MECHANICAL ENGINEERING MASTERS STUDENT, ETH ZURICH, SAYING: "It's not much wider than a classic manual wheelchair and it can still go under tables, you can go through narrow doors and use it indoors without any hassle, so it's extremely compact in comparison to different wheelchairs and it's very easy to use." Only one Scalevo currently exists, but once they've been helped to take it to market, its creators say it shouldn't cost much more than most wheelchairs.