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VA research in action

SmartWheel enhances the well-being of wheelchair users

August 1, 2018

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Photo courtesy of HERL

The SMARTWheel was developed in the 1990s by the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), a joint institute of VA and the University of Pittsburgh. HERL is home to VA's Center for Wheelchairs and Associated Rehabilitation Engineering.

The device measures push forces, frequency, length, smoothness, and speed. It then creates automated reports that allow therapists to optimize wheelchair setup and push style to reduce repetitive stress. This has been essential in helping wheelchair users avoid repetitive stress injuries. It is in use at more than 175 clinics and labs.

The SMARTWheel has also helped inform the development of new wheelchair technology, as well as an important clinical practice guideline released in 2005 concerning the preservation of upper limb function after spinal cord injury.

Principal investigator: Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D.; HERL

Selected publications:

Cooper RA. SMARTWheel: from concept to clinical practice. Prosthet Orthot Int. 2009 Sep;33(3):198-209.

Asato KT, Cooper RA, Robertson RN, Ster JF. SMARTWheels: development and testing of a system for measuring manual wheelchair propulsion dynamics. IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 1993 Dec;40(12):1320-4.

Outside partnerships: University of Pittsburgh


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