Engineer invents hands-free wheelchair for best friend

When Marcus Thompson was left paraplegic after a skiing accident, his best friend Kevin Halsall wanted to design a wheelchair that would suit his active lifestyle.

The New Zealand engineer came up with a "game changing" wheelchair, called the Ogo, based on Segway technology that enables the user to move intuitively, more precisely and hands-free.

And with special features, like being able to change tyres to allow users to travel in all terrains, the wheelchair can move up to 20km per hour even off-road.

The prototype, which took Mr Halsall alongside Mr Thompson four years of development, is now a finalist in the National Innovators Awards and is in the process of being made available for purchase.

Users simply lean in the direction of travel and use their core muscles even to stay in balance which occupational therapists say is a key benefit of the Ogo.

Its hands-free design will enable users freedom to do more from playing sports to mowing the lawn.

“It’s one of the life affirming things that this machine does, it puts you in touch with your whole body again,” Mr Thompson said.

Marcus Thompson helped developed the Ogo and demonstrates its use as a sports wheelchair. Credit: Ogo Technology

The Ogo has been tested on people with disabilities from T4 to T12 and some tetraplegics. Anyone with abdominal control can operate the device hands free.

Those without abdominal control can still use the chair by holding on to its sides.

The wheelchair also has stabilisers for when users are working or lifting items off the floor. The battery-powered wheelchair can also be steered manually.

A price for the Ogo is yet to be fixed but Mr Halsall says he wants to keep it as low as he can to "make it affordable to people that need it".