Researchers from the Medical Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (ARMC), Sheffield, UK, are developing an advanced mobility aid that could change the lives of millions of disabled people. With funding support from the Royal Marines Charity, Conquering Horizons called in the Medical AMRC — part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing — to assess whether the concept was feasible and to create the beginnings of the design.

Samuel Rees (left) and Marcus Crossley, from the Medical AMRC, with Phil Eaglesham at the fundraising launch at the Imperial War Museum in London.

To design the device, they are working with a former soldier who caught a devastating disease in Afghanistan. Corporal Phil Eaglesham contracted Q Fever — also known as Helmand Fever — during active service. The former Royal Marine Commando, who was part of Britain’s Paralympic Squad in Brazil, is forced to rely increasingly on mobility devices as his condition deteriorates. His reliance has led him to try to create something more suitable for mobility device users.

Eaglesham, his wife Julie, and businessman Brian Meaden, a father of a mobility device user, set up Conquering Horizons to create a mobility device that would address the drawbacks of conventional wheelchairs and scooters.

Eaglesham identified six key failings affecting current mobility devices, all of which are being addressed by Victor, the new device being developed at the Medical AMRC. Victor incorporates an adjustable lifting device that can raise users to a “social height,” enabling them to look people in the eye and to sit at the right height to eat or work.

Samuel Rees (seated) and Marcus Crossley, from the Medical AMRC, outline the principles of the new mobility device, using a prototype.

It is designed to tackle difficult terrain, mount curbs, fit through standard doorways, and maneuver easily, thanks to multidirectional wheels that give it a turning circle just slightly larger than its wheel base. Victor is also modular, so that it can be modified as a user’s condition changes.

It is designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Marcus Crossley of Medical AMRC said, “Victor has a completely fresh, modern appearance that is far removed from the stigmatizing, institutionalized image of existing devices. Our aim, from the outset, has been to create a device that able-bodied people would want to be seen on.”

“Having this device will enable Phil, millions like him, to gain a more active, independent and normal life,” said Julie Eaglesham. “This will not only give them an amazing physical advantage but will also have a hugely positive impact on their mental health and allow them to lead a more active and involved life. For Phil, in his role as a father of three lively boys, the ability to travel on most surfaces or terrains and the support, comfort and control of a device that he has complete confidence in, will be revolutionary.”

Researchers from the Medical AMRC recently traveled to London to speak at a fundraising event at the Imperial War Museum. The goal is for Victor to cost no more than £10,000 (~$12,350).

Marcus Crossley added, “Phil is an inspirational person and raising money to develop Victor could have a major impact on the lives of millions who need to use mobility devices and their families.

“Victor needs more development work in order to get to a position where it can be sold to the public, and we are actively supporting Conquering Horizons as it seeks to raise the necessary finance through its crowdfunding appeal.”

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