Hacking Wheelchairs for Urbanity


Kate Reed

Overall Iterations

Nathaniel Tong
1 / 8

We started out with a design that would house a free wheel mechanism taken from a bike. After completeting the design and getting it to work, we realized that we couldn't go backwards, nor could we easily find a way to power the other side of the chair. After this we decided we need to create our on mechanism, this way we could power both sides and go backwards.

In our second design, the entire mechanism is 3D printed as opposed to just the housing. The mechanism uses a dual ratcheting and stacked gear system. One ratched would engage into the bottom or top gear, and the stacked gears would mirrored. When one ratchet is engaged, the lever would propel you forward. When one ratchet disengaged the other one will engage into the other gear. This way the lever would propel you backwards.

After playing with this design for a while we found that only having two ratchets  would cause strength issues, so we moved onto a planetary ratchet which would displace the forces over three ratchets instead of just one. We are still working on this design, but it works with a circular detent in the middle. This detent uses springs to press the ratchets into the gear. When we rotate the detent, the ratchets will reverse and engage into the other gear.


Kate Reed


Kate Reed

Sayed's Universal Arm

Mohammad Sayed

Gandhi once said, "be the change you wish to see in the world." That is basically what I have done. I wanted a tray for my wheelchair, but couldn't find one that worked for me. With the help of NuVu, my new school based in Cambridge Massachusetts, I invented the Universal Arm. When I first started NuVu, I had wanted to build a wheelchair that could fly as well as go under water. My boss told me we needed to start small and then get big. He told me to come with a wish list of all the attachments that I wanted for my wheelchair. The Universal Arm and the Rowing Motion lever were part of that wish list. There were twelve students who worked on the attachments for a period of two weeks. I had three team members who worked with me on the Universal Arm and its attachments.  I continued improving the Arm after they left. I soon realized that I could use the arm, which attached to the arm of my wheelchair, for other purposes. For example, when not using the tray, I can attach a cup holder, a tripod, and a canopy for protecting me from rain to the Universal Arm.

The other great thing about the Universal Arm is that it allows me to control everything from the front which is a great advantage, specifically for people in wheelchairs. If you are in a wheelchair, you don't have to worry about having something taken from your backpack in crowded places. The Universal Arm is cheap, 3D printable, customizable, and foldable. All the attachments can fit inside one small briefcase.

It took more than twelve versions to finally come up with the final working version of the Universal Arm. The most frustrating part of the whole process has been the canopy, which is still a work in progress.  When I met President  Obama this past week, I realized that all my hard work on the Universal Arm was worth it. Having met Obama motivates me to do work even harder. Five years ago, back in Afghanistan, it would never have crossed my mind that one day I would be sitting in the White House shaking the hand of the most powerful man in the world. It all made me realize that while there may be many challenges in life, there are also many possibilities within my reach.

After a year of living in the United States, I set some long term goals for myself. One of my goals is to open a school for street kids back home. Many of these kids are creative kids like myself. Unfortunately, they are born with an AK 47 next to them and grow up brainwashed by the hatred of an enemy and war. I want them to be born next to a 3D printer so they can grow up thinking of inventing something that will change the world in a good way. When I started NuVu this past year, I realized that this is exactly the type of school that I want to open. At NuVu you can be a filmmaker, an engineer, inventor, scientist, fashion designer, or a graphic designer. There are superman brains from MIT and Harvard to help you along the way if you get stuck or need help. NuVu is a universe of opportunities for creative minds.

Many students at the White House on Monday were scientists. That was the focus of the White House Science Fair. It was a celebration of young scientists. My school will be named after my American Mom, who is not a Muslim, and will focus on innovation and film. When I first told my mom that I will name my school after her she said, "well Sweetie that is very sweet of you, but beside the fact your school would be named after an infidel, the movie industry is also something that many conservative Afghans oppose." That is my over all goal to open their minds and introduce them to the outside world. If I had not come to America, I would never have learned that we are not enemies. This country is made of immigrants from every country and there are millions of Muslims Living here.  To make a long story short, my business plan for my school will follow the plot of the movie, Pay it Forward by Mimi Leder.

Photos and Renderings

Kate Reed

Universal Arm Film

Saeed Arida and 2 OthersAndrew Todd Marcus
Mohammad Sayed

Tray Table Initial Design

Andrew Todd Marcus and 4 OthersMohammad Sayed
Nuradin Bhatti
Carlos Alvarenga
Pablo Yanes

I always wished to have a cup holder to carry my drinks from the kitchen to my room and my food while I am sitting in front of the TV. There was nothing on the internet or Amazon. As the saying goes, “on top of every mountain there is a pathway.” NuVu was at the end of my pathway. With their help, the Universal Arm was invented. We are now way ahead of the competition.

The Universal Arm is an external arm that is made specifically for people in wheelchairs. For now it only works with the brand Quickie type wheelchairs. The arm is totally custom made from the ground up. It is easy to attach and detach. It was originally made to hold a tray for food, but as the process continued we added new parts so it is useful when not used for holding a tray. The Arm itself can hold pen, pencil, grocery bags, and have a place to be used as a wallet.

Three different arm was created. Each arm was unique in its own ways. The last is always the best. The problem with the first one was that it had three different hinges. The hinges were made to rotate the tray and place it on the side. Since there was not enough space on the side of my wheelchair, there was no need for the hinges. The issue with the second design was the diameter inside the tube. It was hard to slide it onto my wheelchair arm. There was also some unnecessary holes on the first par of the Universal Arm. To fix this problem was easy. I went back to the sketch and made the necessary changes. I increased the diameter by 5 mm and deleted the holes that I didn't need.

The new and final Universal Arm, at least for now, looks very strong. It is very easy to slide it on the arm. There are two parts for it because you can take it out and put it on your back pack when your not using it. There are also screw holes to adjust it, so you can rotate it to the side. The Universal Arm is not just an arm, it is a piece of art.

We will improve the arm to work with all kinds of wheelchairs. For now we are taking it one step at a time. We want this model to be as strong and useful as possible. When we are totally satisfied and like using it, then we will move forward.

Latest Prototype

Saeed Arida and 2 OthersNathaniel Tong
Kate Reed


Nuradin Bhatti and 2 OthersMohammad Sayed
Pablo Yanes

The main idea of this studio was about Wheelchair Hacking so my group we got a idea about a deck / tray. The idea of this project was about making the person using the wheelchair have easier life on his wheelchair. We picked the desk / tray for our project because how wheel chairs do not have a real easy way to have access with a desk to write or a place to eat. it also show about how hard life people in wheel chair have and we want to help them make the usual life easy for them.. The problem of the tray/ desk was that we have a limited space in the chair and we do not want to disturb the space. But our group we mostly thought how baby carriages are build in a limited space. When we had all the piece we needed to start pasting with glue but this is what gave us the must problem. This was the problem because how small some of the pieces that we had we needed to put it all together  so this made it be hard to glue and for different layers that we had. But with few clamps and working together we over came with problem. This project was important because it makes some of the wheelchair people have be solved for them.