Lightweight Wheelchair materials and 3-D printing give Team USA an edge at this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio.
The U.S. Paralympic team is flush with heroes. There’s Jessica Long, 24, the swimmer who had her legs amputated, then beat out a Heisman Award-winning quarterback for the AAU’s most prestigious national award. Tatyana McFadden, 27, the marathoner born paralyzed from the waist down, who fought (and won) in Maryland court to win equal opportunity for students with disabilities in interscholastic athletics. And then there’s Josh George, 32, in a wheelchair since an accident when he was a toddler, winner of the Chicago Marathon and multiple world record holder. Dude’s a bonafide badass, and, for this year’s Paralympic Games in Rio, he’s going to have a wheelchair to make Alex Zanardi jealous.
That’ll come courtesy of BMW North America, whose Designworks arm in California is supplying kit for the 2016 Team USA Paralympic Track and Field squad. More than a year of research and development went into these new wheelchairs, and it shows. Conventional units are welded aluminum, lightweight but relatively flimsy and uncomfortable; fundamentally, they’re medical devices modified to go racing. Not ideal. So BMW set on something purpose-built, the equivalent of a Le Mans prototype. That meant aerodynamic considerations and a carbon fiber structure, allowing the seat to be custom-molded for each athlete.
“Existing chairs have a rectangular metal bucket, so the racers shim their body in with foam blocks and straps,” says Brad Cracchiola of BMW Designworks. “With our chair, we took inspiration from auto racing doing a custom body mold in their cockpit. Once they get in it, they have a perfect fit. They can’t flip. We also customized the steering around their ergonomics.”
Source: BMW Created a Carbon Fiber Racing Wheelchair and It’s Incredible – The Drive