RED laboratory makes a difference in local disability communities

Posted: October 25, 2023

The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) houses the Rehabilitation Engineering Design (RED) Laboratory, which was created to build assistive health technologies for people with disabilities. Surprisingly, automotive technologies are not dissimilar from certain health technologies. For example, your car may notify you to get your oil changed every 7,000-10,000 miles. For those who use wheelchairs, it would be beneficial to have similar warnings that are tailored to wheelchair maintenance. RED works on creating and implementing technologies like this in the real world.

RED was founded in 2022 by Anand Mhatre, an Assistant Professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, who has a background in both mechatronics and assistive health technologies. In 2022, Mhatre came to The Ohio State University for its engineering program and nearby hospital system. He says, “I enjoy taking something from the automotive sector and bringing it to the wheelchair sector. Ohio State is known for its strong engineering presence as well as its large hospital complex. Those two things are what drew me to Ohio State.”

One of the technologies RED is designing is an Internet-of-Wheelchairs called WheelTrak. This is similar to a car’s odometer; it tracks travel distance and road shocks. WheelTrak machine learning models predict when parts will break and the WheelTrak smartphone app can accordingly inform the wheelchair user when servicing is due. This app shows users things like distance traveled, tire pressure and frequency of movement. Sean Miller, who is a mechanical engineering summer intern at RED, has done much of the work on getting this app ready for the public. “We hope to see this on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store someday,” he says. Mhatre anticipates healthcare insurance to utilize WheelTrak data related to reliability and utilization to create value-driven reimbursement plans.

man adding sensors to wheelchair

Another project RED is leading is wheelchair design and standardization for less-resourced settings. In his home country India, Mhatre and his collaborators set up one of a kind wheelchair testing laboratory with International Organization for Standardization (ISO) test methods. This facility is being used by manufacturers there to improve wheelchair quality and foster design innovation. Part of this project is testing a dynamic wheelchair for children in India: a wheelchair that tilts and reclines and has an extra wheel to navigate rough terrains. With this dynamic wheelchair, RED has found that children in India have better physical growth, cognitive improvement, activity and social participation.

Mhatre works closely with Martha Morehouse Outpatient Care, which is just up the road from CAR. There, he and his team of engineers and clinicians work with real-world wheelchair users. He says, “My motive is that whatever work we do in the lab at CAR needs to get out of the lab. I’m happy to write papers and present at conferences for the rest of my life, but I don’t find a thrill in that. The point is getting it out into the real world.” WheelTrak is currently being used on about 50 wheelchairs in the Columbus area, as well as some in Mexico.

Written by Cassie Forsha, CAR writing intern

Category: Research