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Best seats in the house for Paralympics GB hopefuls

Issue date:
30 August 2012
Press release 
Engineering, ICT
Paraolympian Ade Orogbemi

Paralympics GB basketball champion, Ade Orogbemi trying out one of the new seats (Courtesy of SA Images).

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.

Wheelchair basketball

Duration: 7.04 minutes

“Within any wheelchair basketball team, both the nature and the extent of the players’ physical abilities vary considerably,” says Dr Gavin Williams, who has led the project.

“Traditionally players have had a very limited choice of seat designs and a tailor-made approach was not possible. The new seats, which include part of the back rest, are made specifically to accommodate each individual’s needs”. 

Team members initially underwent 3D scans to capture their bodies’ biomechanical movements and their positions in their existing wheelchairs.

The seats are made up using cutting-edge design and manufacturing techniques
The seats are made up using cutting-edge design and manufacturing techniques

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.

Improvements in speed, acceleration and manoeuvrability for the players were achieved.

“The sprint tests, for instance, showed that the new seats enabled the athletes to shave tenths of a second off their best times,” says Dr Williams. “That represents a huge improvement in a player’s ability to reach the ball and move around the court.

The seats save a kilo of weight with the overall chair being two kilos lighter than the chairs that were used in Beijing because of other modifications to the chair itself.

“The advances we’ve made also have the potential to feed into improved seat design for wheelchair users in general,” says Dr Williams. “In particular, bespoke seats could reduce the problems with pressure sores currently experienced by a great number of wheelchair users.” 

In total 8 players, four men and four women will be using the new seats at the Paralympics this year. 

Notes for Editors

The wheelchair basketball tournament at the 2012 London Paralympics will take place at the Basketball Arena in the Olympic Park and at the North Greenwich Arena between Thursday 30th August and Saturday 8th September.

The development of the new wheelchair seat has been a real team effort, involving not just Loughborough University but also:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via research Councils UK.

Loughborough University is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines. It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2011 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK. And it was the top university in England in the 2012 Times Higher Education poll measuring best student experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes. It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.  


For more information, contact:

Dr Gavin Williams
Sports Technology Institute
Loughborough University
Tel: 01509 227641. 

Images are available from the EPSRC Press Office. 

Contact: EPSRC Press Office
Tel: 01793 44 4404.

Reference: PN: 56/12