NuVu studio high school students use 3D design and printing to “hack wheelchairs for urbanity” –

Traditional wheelchairs are wonderful for people who need them, providing independence for those who have limitations on their personal mobility for a number of reasons. Still, they have design flaws that could improve functionality and usability, especially for users in urban settings.

As with many awesome ideas using the latest technology, a new solution for innovative improvements to traditional wheelchair designs has emerged from a group of young people. High school students at NuVu Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts were inspired by a classmate in a wheelchair.

NuVu Studio is a magnetic innovation center that encourages its students – approximately 35 students each term – to solve real-world problems in a collaborative environment. The Magnetic Center is a collaboration with Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA that values ​​innovative teaching approaches. NuVu students learned about Autodesk Fusion 3D modeling software, then spent time brainstorming “urban hacks” to help improve city life.

The wheelchair hacks focused on three issues specific to wheelchair use in an urban environment:

  1. Lack of overall efficiency
  2. Inability to access backpacks or other personal items hanging from the back
  3. No universal knee tray

Working in groups, students developed plans to tackle each of these issues. The solutions were complex designs targeted at these three issues, including a 3D-printed ratchet mechanism to improve speed and efficiency, a hinged bag attachment that pivots for access, a modular rail system to hold objects and a universal tray that can hold everyday items. like phones and laptops.

The team of students working on the first draft, addressing efficiency and speed, noted their brainstorming process:

“We live in a fast-paced world that the wheelchair hasn’t necessarily kept up with. We want to use a ratchet mechanism, Left_20Wheel_20Diagramwhich would allow the user to roll faster in the chair in a rowing motion as opposed to a rolling motion, a motion similar to the arms on an elliptical machine. We are mainly focusing on the ratchet mechanism that drives the wheelchair forward, but hopefully if we have time we can also work on the brakes.

Using these thoughts as the basis for the design, the students set about prototyping the rowing motion using scraps of cardboard and bicycle parts before settling on a workable design.

The second team created a wheelchair canopy to solve the accessibility issues for the items, while another team created a modular rail system to hold the items. These adaptations allow a wheelchair user to reach many of their commonly used objects, such as phones, tablets, laptops and other devices.


The third item on the list has been handled by a team that has created a desk/armrest for functional use. All student projects have been well documented on the NuVu website, helping teens not only collaborate on functional designs, but also learn how to properly record their milestones. By recording their processes, students were held accountable for their work and able to retrace the steps they took in each of their prototyping processes in order to both build on previous ideas and simply record them for later. posterity.

Check out more details about their work in their project portfolios, and some additional photos of their designs and 3D printed parts below. What do you think? Will more high school students take on self-directed projects like these? Discuss your thoughts in the 3D Printed Wheelchair Hacks thread on

_mg_8230 _MG_8427-X3 IMG_0623 IMG_6165 img_6343 IMG_6358-X3