From time to time, we like to write about new and innovative mobility aids on this blog. This has included several “off road” wheelchairs that can handle hills, creeks, beaches, and the snow. But until now, we had never seen a wheelchair that can climb stairs.

It’s called Scalevo.

Scalevo was designed by a team of students at ETH Zurich, a top technology school in Switzerland. Student Beni Winter wanted to create a robot that could climb stairs smoothly and hold a camera, so as to get smooth tracking shots up and down stairs. Although this was a cool goal with commercial application, it’s not nearly as cool or potentially life changing as the project Beni and his team eventually settled on-- a stair climbing wheelchair.

The team’s first design was a wheelchair with really big wheels. If the wheels are big enough, stairs would basically be like a ramp to it. But this proved impractical.

The second idea was to put rubber tracks on the sides of the wheelchair. They would lower when they were needed for stair climbing, and raise to get out of the way when not in use. However, the system was too heavy and complex.

The design the students eventually decided on is a combination of the first two ideas. It uses two fairly large wheels to get around. Like a segway, it balances on two wheels instead of the four wheels a wheelchair traditionally uses. Then, when Scalevo needs to climb stairs, rubber ramps descend from the center of the wheelchair and help the user climb. You can check out the video here--

Scalevo can now successfully climb stairs, but not super quickly. The students’ next goal is to get the wheelchair’s speed up so it can climb one stair per second.