Design And Testing Of A Low Cost, Single Motor Propelled Electric Powered Wheelchair For India (SIMPL-EPW)

Jon Pearlman, PhD; Rory Cooper, PhD; Alexandra Jefferds, BS; Jyoti Vidhani, BS; and Nekram Upadhyay, MS


One of the challenges of designing products for foreign regions is developing a faithful understanding of user needs given the geographic, economic, cultural, and social gulf between the product designer and end user.  We used a multi-step process in our project to design a low-cost electric powered wheelchair (EPW) for India, including focus groups (in the US and India), ethnographic disposable camer methods, and an online survey to gain a better understanding of the user needs.  As a consequence, the resulting low-cost EPW design was highly ranked by Indian (n=25) and US users (n=5) in a recent focus group, and significantly increased the distance traveled and decreased the need for assistance during a obstacle course task among Indian wheelchair users (n=25) compared to their own wheelchairs.


Electric powered wheelchair, design, developing countries, focus group


Several faculty, staff, and students were instrumental in helping complete this research, including Rosi Cooper, Dr. HS Chhabra, Chitra Kataria, Namita Bhutani, Jeremy Puhlman, Mark McCartney, Mary Wu, Neil Stegall, and Amol Karmarkar. The work was funded by an NSF IGERT fellowship (DGE0333420) and an IREE supplement to our NSF REU (EEC 0552351).

Lead-author contact information:

Jon Pearlman, PhD
Research Health Scientist
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
7180 Highland Drive
Building 4, 2nd Floor East
Pittsburgh, Pa, 15206
Phone: (412) 365-4850
Fax: (412) 365-4858