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Manual wheelchair drive system

This wheelchair drive system consists of one-way bearings mounted on drive axles coaxial with the drive wheels of a wheelchair, drive levers attached to these axles, drive rods retractably extending through said levers and then through said axles, drive handles at the proximal tips of the drive rods, and frictional braking surfaces on the sides of the drive levers proximal to the wheelchair drive wheels. The drive levers allow the user to push against a handle, maintaining a continuous grip. By pushing on the drive levers, the wheelchair is propelled forward. The one-way bearings allow drive levers to silently rotate the levers back to a position where they can be pushed forward again, thereby allowing the user to silently move the chair forward without having to sequentially grab, push, release, reacquire, then push or propel the drive rims, hand-rings, or wheels, on many wheelchairs. Reacting the drive rods allows the users to disengage the drive axles, attaning a neutral position. Engagement of the frictional braking surface and rearward rotation of a given lever, while in neutral, provides reverse motion of said neutral wheel. Frictional braking surfaces on the inside of the drive levers are actuated by pressing the lever(s) against the wheel hand-rings, thereby slowing, turning, pivoting, or stopping the chair.

Inventors: Mittelstaedt; Mark; (Tucson, AZ)
Correspondence Name and Address: MARK MITTELSTAEDT

Serial No.: 433886
Series Code: 11
Filed: May 15, 2006

U.S. Current Class: 280/250.1
U.S. Class at Publication: 280/250.1
Intern'l Class: B62M 1/14 20060101 B62M001/14





1. A manual wheelchair drive attachment, comprising: 1.) A one-way bearing which is attached to a wheelchair wheel such that the center of said one-way bearing is coaxial with the wheelchair wheel axle, 2.) A drive axle mounted through the center of said one-way bearing, 3.) A drive rod, attached to a drive handle which is also attached to said drive axle, said rod retractably extending through an aperture in said drive axle such that when said drive rod is passed through said aperture to engage said axle, said drive axle can be rotated forwardly by applying forward pressure to said drive handle, thereby propelling the chair forward, and said axle can be disengaged by applying upward pressure on said drive handle to retract said drive rod from said axle, so the user does not have to move his hand from the handle to disengage said drive axle and access neutral, so said chair can be freely rolled.



[0001] This specification is a Continuation in Part to application Ser. No. 11/049,312--a manually operated lever drive system for wheelchairs that attaches as an after-market application to the primary drive wheels, or, in another embodiment, is permanently mounted to the primary drive wheels of a wheelchair. A drive lever, or handle, comprised of metal tubing, is attached to the proximal end of a mounting pin by an attachment means. There are two apertures, in said mounting pin; the primary aperture centered on the pin diameter, extending through the entire length of the pin, and a secondary aperture located at the distal end of said mounting pin, perpendicular to the primary aperture. Said axle passes through the secondary aperture of said mounting pin and proceeds through the center of a one-way bearing.

[0002] Said one-way bearing is firmly mounted in a bearing housing by an attachment means. Said one-way bearing is oriented and installed in a dedicated unidirectional manner, such that the installed direction of rotation results in forward travel of the wheelchair wheel onto which the drive system is mounted. Said housing is attached to the spokes of the existing wheelchair wheel by an attachment means, such that the drive axle's axis of rotation is coaxial with the wheelchair drive wheel's axis of rotation. The outer diameter of said drive axle is firmly coupled to the inner diameter of the one-way bearing by an integrated coupling means.

[0003] An internal rod, housed within the drive lever tube, is attached to a handle located above the proximal end of said drive lever tube, and passes retractably through an aperture in a rod locator pin at the proximal end of the drive lever tube. This rod proceeds through the length of the drive lever tube, and then proceeds through said primary aperture in said axle mounting pin, engaging said drive axle by sliding into an aperture in said drive axle. The aperture in said drive axle is perpendicular to the axle's axis of rotation, and closely approximates the diameter of said rod. Associated retaining rings keep the axle located such that the primary aperture of said mounting pin remains in place, along the axle where the aperture in said drive axle is located.

[0004] This wheelchair drive system is engaged when the axle has been rotated such that said rod can pass through said aperture in said axle, and thereby traverse through said axle perpendicularly to said axle's axis of rotation. Pushing said lever forward then results in rotation of the axle, providing drive power to the wheelchair. When the drive rod is retracted upwards, such that the rod no longer traverses the drive axle, said drive axle is disengaged. The wheelchair can now be freely rolled forwards and backwards, consistent with original equipment usage and limitations.

[0005] As an associated, dedicated, safety factor, brake shoes are mounted to each drive lever such that, depending on the embodiment, they contact either the outer surface of the wheelchair rim, or the hand-ring, when the user flexes the drive handle towards the user, thereby applying frictional contact between the brake shoe and one of the above surfaces. Flexing one lever towards the user, thereby applying frictional braking to one of said surfaces, provides an element of steering control to the wheelchair. The chair can be easily turned, either at rest or while in motion, by braking with one lever and applying forward power with the other. When one drive lever is disengaged by retraction of the axle rod, and said lever handle is flexed so as to provide friction between the brake shoe and said wheel or hand-ring, and then rotated to provide reverse travel, and the opposite lever is used to provide forward motion, the chair can be pivoted in place, so the user can turn around in a very small space, like an elevator. If both drive rods are disengaged, frictional contact and rearward rotation of both handles can then be utilized as a means of driving the chair reverse.

[0006] The drive lugs are shaped such that they engage the spokes of the wheelchair wheel, and locate the axis of rotation of the bearing coaxially with the free-rotating axle of said wheel. In other embodiments, said bearing housing may be mounted directly to the hub of said wheel, eliminating the need for separate drive lugs. The option of utilizing the lugs provides for an after the fact installation on an existing wheelchair wheel.

[0007] The one-way bearing provides no resistance when the said drive axle is rotated in the reverse direction. Therefore, the lever can be easily returned to the point at which forward pressure can then be resumed to drive the chair forward. In the preferred embodiment, one of these mechanisms is mounted on each drive wheel of a wheelchair.


[0008] There are many systems for driving wheelchairs, which include various mechanisms with gears and sprockets, a plurality of wheels, drive linkages and cables, motors, and other methods.

[0009] In U.S. Pat. No. 4,523,769, Glaser uses a lever/ratchet mechanism to drive gears for propulsion. Taylor (U.S. Pat. No. 6,234,504) uses levers to drive sprockets, connected to the drive wheel via chains, similar to Banzi (U.S. Pat. No. 6,325,398). In U.S. Pat. No. 6,634,663, Mitchell uses a lever to operate a crank handle that presses on circular handrails when pressure is applied. U.S. Pat. No. 6,325,398 discloses a chain transmission. Drake (U.S. Pat. No. 5,941,547) uses one-way bearing clutches, but attaches the bearings and drive levers to a pivot point on the wheelchair frame, moving the lever attachment point away from the center of gravity of the chair, requires a drive cable to convert lever motion to rotational motion. Sheaffer, in U.S. Pat. No. 3,994,509, cites the use of overrunning clutches, but connects them to a chain to drive the wheel(s). Oxford (U.S. Pat. No. 5,303,945) discloses a ratchet wrench to apply motive power.


[0010] In general, and by design, manually powered wheelchairs require the user to grasp a circular hand-ring that is attached to the wheelchair drive wheel. To move the chair, the user is required to grip this ring and apply manual pressure to rotate said ring/wheel in the desired direction of travel. Since the grip is concentric with the wheel, and rotates as the wheel rotates, the user can apply maximum force to the rotating grip for only a portion of the rotation of the wheel. The ring then rotates out of the reach of the user, and the user needs to let go of the circular ring and grab it again at another point on the circumference of said ring, and reapply muscular pressure to keep moving. There are a number of existing variations of the circular hand-ring, i.e., a hand-ring with protruding knobs located along the circumference of the hand-ring for those individuals not possessing an ability to grip a standard hand-ring.

[0011] Oxford's use of a ratchet wrench allows the user to maintain a grip on the drive handle. However, it requires the user to release the drive handle to operate a lever to control a shifting mechanism. Since the shifting lever rotates with the wrench, it changes rotational location with every stroke. Thus, the user has no knowledge of the rotational position of said shifting lever at any given moment, and will need to either look at the wheel or search manually to locate said shift lever. Additionally, a ratchet wrench comprises a plurality of gear teeth which click past a spring-loaded pawl when the handle is returned to the starting position to reapply motive power, such that the user is accompanied by a clicking noise during each rewinding stroke, or while in neutral and the chair is in motion, such as while coasting or rolling downhill. It is a principal object of this invention to provide a silent means of propulsion, so the user of a lever-driven wheelchair is not accompanied by noise whenever the user moves the chair.

[0012] When a ratchet wrench is used, there is some distance of travel through which the mechanism must be moved before the ratchet engages and forward travel is again possible after the rewind stroke. This distance, sometimes charaterized as "play", is due to the inherent design of a ratchet wrench. Therefore, traveling short distances require the handle to travel distances out of proportion to the desired distance of travel, making small position adjustments difficult when using a drive system comprising a ratchet wrench. Another principal object of this invention is to provide a lever driven mechanism with no play, so precise chair positioning is easy.

[0013] Another problem with Oxford's approach is the difficulty in using the levers on either side of the chair independently. If the mechanism remains "tight", the various elements comprising the "inverted U-shaped member" will not easily slide relative to each other, which is required for operation. If they are loose enough so they can easily slide past each other and allow independent use of the levers, there will be more play in the mechanism, which will make the chair noisy, and less efficient to operate. There is no provision to flex individual, dedicated handles towards the user, against the surface of the wheel hand-ring, for frictional braking and/or steering. Another, more glaring problem with Oxford's approach here is that said U-shaped member has to be removed each time a user needs to enter or exit the chair, then re-assembled when the user needs to re-enter the chair.

[0014] Yet another principal object of this invention is to provide a system that is easy to use and easy to access, so a user can sit down in the chair and immediately start moving the chair by pressing on the lever handles, with no adjustments required, no mechanisms to move out of the way, no switches to locate to place the drive system in neutral, and no gears, cables, sprockets, or any other exposed hardware to present a physical hazard to the impaired.


[0015] This is a wheelchair drive system that addresses the limitations of the above approaches. It consists of a one-way bearing clutch permanently mounted in a housing, a drive axle extending through, and coaxial with, the bearing clutch and drive wheel of the wheelchair, an attachment means to attach said bearing housing coaxial to the hub of a wheelchair wheel such that the drive axle is coaxial with the axle of the wheelchair drive wheel, and a drive lever attached to a mounting pin on the drive axle. In the preferred embodiment of this invention, one of these drive systems is mounted to each side of the wheelchair, such that there is a drive lever on each wheelchair drive wheel.

[0016] Also in the preferred embodiment, a drive rod passes retractably through the drive lever and thence through an aperture in the drive axle, providing retractable engagement of the drive mechanism. The use of a retractable drive rod through the axle in the one-way bearing provides access to forward, neutral and reverse while maintaining a continuous grip. The one-way bearing directly coupled to the drive axle, without cables or chains, provides silent operation. These benefits are unavailable to users of lever-driven chairs with other propulsion means.

[0017] The absence of play in the one-way bearing clutch allows for small rotational movements of the wheelchair wheel to be easily made. The frictional braking surface on the side of the handle lever facing the wheelchair wheel is actuated by pressing the lever against said wheel, thereby slowing the chair if both sides are used in braking, for controlled turning while the chair is in motion, and rapid pivoting of the chair, in place, by using reverse in one hand and drive in the other. The user never has to let go of the handle to drive, brake, or turn the chair. Reverse motion of one or both wheels is possible by retracting, or disengaging the drive rod, then pressing against the lever to engage the braking surface against the existing hand-ring while rotating the lever(s) rearwards.

[0018] The use of the one-way bearing, instead of the ratchet wrench described by Oxford, allows for completely silent operation. The inner mechanism of a one-way bearing consists of a series of spring-loaded cam lobes distributed around the internal annulus of said bearing, said annulus being defined by the space between the inner and outer races of said bearing. These cams allow for free rotation in one direction, but lock instantly on the shaft when it is rotated in the opposite direction. Thus, when an elongate shaft that traverses the inner diameter of the inner race of said bearing, said shaft being coupled to said inner race by a coupling means, is rotated in the locked direction, the internal mechanism of said bearing instantly captures the shaft. When said bearing is permanently mounted in a housing, and such housing is mounted to a wheelchair wheel by drive lugs that clamp the spokes of said wheel such that the axis of said elongate shaft is coaxial with the axis of rotation of said wheel, and such that the locked direction of the bearing corresponds to the direction of forward rotation of the chair, a handle mounted to said elongate shaft can be rotated, applying power to the wheel and moving said wheelchair forward.


[0019] In this embodiment, the bearing housing of said mechanism attaches to a wheelchair wheel by an attachment means that clamps said wheelchair wheel spokes between drive lugs. Various embodiments require various drive lug and housing shapes to clamp various spoke designs. A drive axle extends through the drive lever mounting pin, and then through a one-way bearing mounted in a bearing housing. The axle is coupled to the bearing by an attachment means. The bearing housing and lever mounting pin are retained on the axle by retaining rings.

[0020] The tubing that comprises the drive lever has a drive rod locator at its proximal tip. The drive rod passes through an aperture in said drive locator. The diameter of this aperture closely approximates the aperture in said drive rod locator. In various embodiments, various drive handles can be attached to the proximal tip of the drive rod, above the drive rod locator, by an attachment means, to accommodate the grips of various users. When the drive rod is passed through the extent of the drive lever handle and thence through an aperture on the drive lever mounting pin, and the axle has rotated such that an aperture in the axle, perpendicular to its axis of rotation, is now beneath the aperture in said drive lever mounting pin, the drive rod slides into the aperture in said drive axle for drive engagement.

[0021] Once said drive rod has been engaged, forward pressure on the drive handle(s) provides silent rotational motion of the axle, thereby propelling the chair as a result of the pressure applied by the drive lugs against the spokes of the wheel. The distal tip of the drive rod is rounded to facilitate its'passage into the aperture in said drive axle. In other embodiments, several holes are drilled through the axle perpendicular to its axis of rotation, to minimize the amount of rotation of said axle required for drive engagement.

[0022] The outside surface of the drive lever, located approximate to the hand-ring of the wheelchair, has a frictional braking surface attached such that when the drive handle is flexed towards the wheelchair drive wheel, said braking surface contacts the hand-ring, in the preferred embodiment, providing frictional contact for braking or steering. In other embodiments, the wheelchair wheel rim is engaged by the frictional braking surface.


[0023] Wheelchairs are often used by people who have physical impairments that diminish the strength available for propelling their chair. The fundamental physical requirements of an individual utilizing a manual wheelchair are inherently inappropriate, and contrary to abilities and limitations of the impaired. The mechanical advantage provided by the lever, coupled with the power transmission resulting from mounting a drive axle coaxial within the hub of an existing wheel, utilizing a one way bearing clutch to provide a simple--and silent--mechanism for returning the lever to its drive position, allows wheelchair users to propel a wheelchair using the large muscles in their upper bodies, in a relaxed and upright position, while maintaining a continuous grip on the handle for control and braking.

[0024] This is a direct drive system, using no gears, cables, sprockets or transmissions to apply power to the wheels. In the retrofittable embodiment, it attaches to wheelchair spokes, so users don't need to purchase a new chair to realize the benefits of a lever-drive mechanism. In various embodiments of this design, different attachment means are used to attach the drive system to various spoke designs, or directly or internally to the hub of the drive wheel.

[0025] Oxford's system was patented in 1994. It was never placed on the market, yet the market for this type of system is very large. 12 years have elapsed. If my design is "obvious to one skilled in the state of the art", it would have long since been manufactured and marketed. Perhaps the most important object of this invention is for my system to be simple to manufacture and operate, so it can actually be placed on the market at an affordable price. None of the systems described in the prior art cited ever made it to market--they are too complicated to make and, as a result, too difficult for the impaired to easily operate.


[0026] FIG. One shows a perspective cross section of drive axle 3 extending through drive lever mounting pin 4, and then through the center of one-way bearing 1. Apertures for drive rod 6 in drive lever mounting pin 4 and axle 3 can be seen; dotted lines describe both apertures. The distal tips of drive rod 6 and drive lever 8 can be seen above drive lever mounting pin 4. The distal tip of the tubing comprising drive lever 8 is pressed down to the shoulder of drive lever mounting pin 4, and then permanently attached via an attachment means upon assembly.

[0027] FIG. Two shows a cross section of one-way bearing 1 in housing 2 attached to the wheelchair drive wheel spokes 14/14a by means of drive lugs 5/5a. Said drive lugs, which can be rigidly attached to housing--in this embodiment by threaded fasteners--clamp said spokes. Various embodiments will have a varying numbers of lugs, and various lug cross-sections, to accommodate, and clamp, various wheel/spoke designs. Axle 3, mounting pin 4, drive rod 6, drive lever 8, and retaining rings 13/13a can also be seen in cross section.

[0028] FIG. Three shows a perspective cross section of drive rod locator 7 pressed in to the proximal tip of drive lever 8, where it is permanently mounted with an attachment means at assembly. A handle, 10, is attached to the proximal tip of drive rod 6 above the drive rod aperture in drive rod locator 7. Drive rod 6 extends through the length of drive lever 8; only a section of drive lever 8 is shown. Shaft collar 9 is attached to drive rod 6 below rod locator 7, to limit the upward travel of drive rod 6 when it is adjusted upwards to disengage the drive axle, so the distal tip of said rod stays within the proximal tip of the drive lever mounting pin, but completely exits the aperture in the drive axle.

[0029] FIG. Four shows a cross section of a frictional brake assembly 11, attached along the length of drive handle 8 such that it is pressed against the outer surface of the manual wheelchair wheel hand-ring 12, attached to the wheelchair spokes 14, both seen in cross-section, when drive lever 8 is flexed towards said wheelchair wheel, providing braking, steering, and a frictionally-operated reverse.

[0030] FIG. Five shows a perspective view of a section of drive handle 8, drive lever mounting pin 4, axle 3, one-way bearing 1, housing 2, drive lugs 5/5a, and sections of a plurality of spokes (14).

[0031] FIG. 6 shows a view of the housing assembly from the inside of the wheel. A plurality of spokes (14) and drive lugs 5 can be seen, as well as the outline of housing 2, and the wheelchair axle 15.

[0032] FIG. 7 shows a cross section of the entire assembly

[0033] FIG. 8 shows the entire assembly mounted to a wheelchair. In FIG. 8, the housing design is a rectangular embodiment, and the brake shoe is shown contacting wheel rim/tire assembly 16.

[0034] FIG. 9 shows a cross-section of one-way bearing 1. The cams, 17, allow free clockwise rotation of inner race 18, but lock instantly when the axle 3 is turned counterclockwise and the springs, 19, push the bottom of said cams against the adjacent surface of said inner race.

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