Goodbye, Hello Shenzhen

Kang Chen’s Hello Shenzhen residency at Machines Room came to a close last week, following a wrap-up event at Impact Hub Westminster. During his residency, Kang worked closely with the Disrupt Disability team. His final design for the modular hub aims to maximise the wheel wearer’s control over the function and form of their chair. All wheelchair components – seat, backrest, rear wheel axel, castor fork and footplate – connect to the hub. Standard connectors enable wheel wearers to choose and interchange differently designed components and customise the chair to their needs. One stand-out feature is the quick release button connecting mechanism, which enables different wheelchair components to be easily interchanged and ‘clicked’ into place with the press of a button.Machines Room Disrupt Disability 3D printed wheelchair component


“For me the light bulb moment was seeing the quick release mechanism that Kang designed in action. We needed a system that enables users to interchange different wheelchair parts but until I saw his design working I never imagined that it would really be as easy as the press of a button.” – Rachael Wallach



One of the biggest revelations during the project was how Kang’s design could facilitate a shift in the way wheelchairs are designed and made so that form, as well as function, is a priority that can take precedent in the design.

Rachael explained that most wheelchair designs start with a chair and then add on wheels. This makes sense if you are designing a medical device for moving or pushing someone around, but not for wearable wheels that people can use to propel themselves. A modular system would allow a wheelchair parts to be interchanged and repaired, much like a bike, or worn with style, like glasses.

Machines Room Disrupt Disability Designing 3D printed wheelchair components

To some extent, function is important – you need to be able to get from A to B. But your wheels don’t just need to work, they need to work for you. Wheel wearers should be able to express their style through the wheels they choose in much the same way that someone who wears glasses can choose their frames to reflect their style. Another good analogy is to look at footwear – ‘shoe wearers’ might choose to wear impractical or even uncomfortable shoes because they suit their outfit or to express their identity. Why shouldn’t wheel wearers have the same choice?
After he returns to China, Kang would like to continue the project where it can benefit from the resources of Shenzhen and his Zealfull factory. Kang also introduced the team to his colleague Dr Rongsheng Zhang who is moving to London and can help with materials.

Machines Room Disrupt Disability 3D print diagram
Kang’s final design reflects views from the Disrupt Disability community about choice over form and function – giving wheel wearers the ability to easily customise how their wheels look and work. It is envisaged that the “hub” and the relevant “connectors” would not themselves be customized to the individual, but that they would be lightweight and could be mass produced. Ideally they would not cost more than $100 to make and have a lifetime of 5 years.