Electric Wheelchair

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

George Klein - Inventor

An invention of Canada’s National Research Council – created over 50 years ago to assist injured war veterans – has helped thousands of paralyzed people around the world regain a sense of mobility. NRC designed the world’s first practical electric wheelchair for quadriplegics, and it quickly drew international attention. The prototype, considered one of the most significant artifacts in Canadian innovation history, is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At the time, the NRC model was more reliable, manœuvrable and versatile than any previous motorized wheelchairs. It featured independent drives on each of the main wheels, so the chair could pivot easily. NRCalso developed a sophisticated control switch with eight different positions that resembles the modern “joystick” – a common feature of today’s electric wheelchairs.

Moving at a speed of roughly four kilometres per hour, the NRC wheelchair could operate in close quarters and on relatively steep ramps. The wheelchair had a maximum operating range of about 30 kilometres, which made it practical for use both indoors and outdoors.

Through this project, NRC helped launch the new field of rehabilitation engineering.

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National Research Council Canada

The National Research Council Canada (NRC) is the Government of Canada's largest science and research organization.

The NRC partners with Canadian industry to take research impacts from the lab to the marketplace, where people can experience the benefits. This market-driven focus delivers innovation faster, enhances people's lives and addresses some of the world's most pressing problems. We are responsive, creative and uniquely placed to partner with Canadian industry, to invest in strategic R&D programming that will address critical issues for our future.