Wheels that can help bag Munros

May 12, 2000

Personal links between higher education and a therapeutic community centre for people with disabilities have resulted in designs for a wheelchair capable of navigating hill paths.

Kenneth Montgomery, a keen hill climber and Munro-bagger (a climber of Scotland's 284 3,000ft mountains) now suffering from multiple sclerosis, is a client at Edinburgh's Firrhill Day Centre, one of whose staff, Fiona Cartmell, is married to the professor of applied dynamics, Matthew Cartmell, of Glasgow University's department of mechanical engineering.

Professor Cartmell set a student project to help Mr Montgomery return to the hills, a challenge taken up by fifth-year MEng student Rory Wilkinson. He said: "I started the project last October, and the first thing I did was interviews with wheelchair users and occupational therapists.

"Most people seemed to think an off-road wheelchair would be a good idea, but there were major problems in that they would probably cost Pounds 5,000 each, there was no National Health Service provision for them, and moving them from A to B in a car would be difficult because they would be very heavy."

Mr Wilkinson has come up with the concept of a wheelchair for outdoor use only, which can negotiate rough terrain and pitted tracks. It could possibly be rented out by outdoor centres and organisations such as the Forestry Commission, which now have equal opportunities obligations to people with disabilities.

While the project has still to be assessed by the university and an external examiner, Professor Cartmell has successfully applied for Pounds 5,000 from the Audi Foundation to allow a prototype to be built over the summer. Mr Montgomery hopes to roadtest the model in the Pentland foothills.

Professor Cartmell said: "Rory has assessed the human side of this product need and has moved on to produce a very convincing design for a wheelchair that will outperform conventional vehicles."

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