Gizmos & Gadgets: Meet RoWheels – a Wheelchair That You Pull to Move Forward

It may seem counter intuitive but RoWheels has reinvented the way you use a wheelchair by using a rowing motion to move forward. The inventor is Salim Nasser, a mechanical engineer at NASA in Florida. Salim, who suffered paralysis from an accident a number of years ago, studied wheelchair mobility and human anatomy to come up with a total redesign of the wheels on a wheelchair.

It was important to consider the biomechanics (see the illustration below) of using a wheelchair in the redesign. A rowing motion involves the large muscles in the upper body including biceps, posterior deltoids and upper/mid back muscles. A pushing motion involves triceps and anterior deltoids, smaller muscles that can more easily fatigue. In addition the redesign takes into consideration repetitive strain issues caused by the pushing motion of traditional wheelchairs which lead to damaged wrist tendons and ligaments, the cause of carpal tunnel syndrome. With a rowing motion the stress and compression of the median nerve is mitigated meaning no repetitive strain.


RoWheel biomechanics


The secret sauce is in the gear system which allows the wheel to rotate counter to the rim when the user pulls backward. For the user a rowing motion is not only less stressful it is far more efficient. It takes 31% fewer strokes of the wheel to achieve the same distance. It is faster to accelerate making it attractive for wheelchair athletes. It is more stable when braking going downhill. And when going up an incline has an added hill-assist feature which the user engages on the central hub of the wheel. This protects against the wheelchair rolling back letting the user navigate at his or her own pace up an incline without slipping backwards and without getting tired during the effort.

For those currently wheelchair bound RoWheels can be used on a wide range of older model chairs using a small, unobtrusive frame adapter. Initial pricing is between $2,000 and $2,500. Production should start shortly. If the price tags seems a bit steep consider the cost of stress-related muscle injuries and carpal tunnel syndrome for those already challenged by being wheelchair bound. The investment in upgrading to RoWheels could save thousands of dollars eliminating future medical treatment for these types of injuries.





Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery.