Senior Design Team Empowers Wheelchair Shoppers

   Story by Schaefer School of Engineering & Science

May 3, 2011

A Biomedical Engineering Senior Design team from Stevens Institute of Technology is working to improve the grocery store experience for 1.5 million manual wheelchair users in the U.S. They have designed a motorized shopping basket for sale to large supermarkets that allows wheelchair shoppers to easily navigate through a store, make large shopping trips, and use their own wheelchairs in stores.

Revolver Senior Design TeamThe team, composed of Greg Bremer, Gabriella Reyes, Samantha Samuel, and Ben Scatuorchio, was presented with an idea from Dr. Arthur Ritter, Program Director for Biomedical Engineering to make a better wheelchair attachment for a shopping basket. After looking at the current market and assessing manual wheelchair user needs, the team decided that rather than create an attachment, what was really needed was to completely rethink the basket itself. The team is advised by Research Assistant Professor Antonio Valdevit.

The team's research explored difficulties with current in-store options for wheelchair users. Since wheelchair owners must typically transfer to the store's motorized cart, they must find a way to secure their own wheelchairs while shopping. The baskets on these carts are typically small or, if large, it is difficult to effectively use the space provided in the basket. Customers who remain in their own wheelchairs have to shop with baskets in their laps or bags hanging behind them on their wheelchairs that are cumbersome to access.

"The current market has no robust solution for the manual wheelchair user," Samantha reports.

To address these problems, the team has developed a steerable, motorized basket that acts as a shopping tool rather than a mode of transportation. The team calls their device "The Revolver" because the basket for depositing groceries spins, enabling the shopper to effectively use the entire space within the basket. The Revolver's dimensions and power capabilities both meet the needs of wheelchair shoppers and exceed Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Their device also maintains a competitive price point. Marketing is a critical aspect of Biomedical Engineering Senior Design projects at Stevens. Careers in the field are based closely on meeting the needs of patients and clinicians through the development of market-driven products that improve lives while offering a strong return on investment.

The Revolver team sees an initial target market for their device in the 35,000 supermarkets with annual sales of at least $2 million. Potential business models include either selling or leasing their device to stores. Their product enhances user experience while remaining inexpensive compared to current, less desirable, options. The basket also offers opportunities to place advertisements, further lowering the cost of ownership for stores.

"This project supports a better quality of life for wheelchair users," says Ben.

Although these seniors may have diverging careers awaiting them after graduation, the team feels a strong commitment to promoting more attention to the manual wheelchair user market.

"This is why we got into Biomedical Engineering," says Gabriella. "We have a strong desire to improve peoples' daily lives."

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