Best seats in the house for Paralympics GB hopefuls

Innovative tailor-made seats will be used for the first time by Paralympics GB for the wheelchair basketball events this summer. Using cutting-edge research the seats are individually moulded for each player to provide the best possible support. They will help the athletes to improve their speed, acceleration and manoeuvrability around the court. The seats have been developed with UK Sport funding at Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute, which is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The new seats are revolutionary because they take the individual’s size, shape and particular disability into account. For example, a player with a spinal cord injury will have a seat that provides additional support around their lower back.

Harnessing a range of cutting-edge design and manufacturing techniques and developed in close consultation with the British men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams, these customised seats consist of a foam interior and a plastic shell. They are simply clamped onto the current wheelchair design in which the frames are already made to measure for the players. Team members initially underwent 3D scans to capture their bodies’ biomechanical movements and their positions in their existing wheelchairs. A moulding bag containing small polystyrene balls (similar to a bean bag style seat), was used to capture the shape of the player when seated. The seat was then made up by hand.

Computer-aided design (CAD) capabilities were then used to refine the shape of the outer layer of the seat to suit each individual player and help position the seat onto the frame. Using this prototype the next stage involved quickly producing copies of each individual seat so that they could be further tested and amended if necessary following feedback. For this speedy production an additive manufacturing technique called selective laser sintering (otherwise known as 3D printing) was used to build up each seat layer by layer. This resulted in a final product that exactly replicated what was on the computer screen. This is the first time anywhere in the world that these existing techniques have been harnessed together to produce a sports wheelchair seat.

For more information, visit: www.epsrc.ac.uk

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