Did you know wheelchair designs have changed very little in the last 20 years? Gary Kurek, a 2010 winner of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public, is attempting to change that with a groundbreaking design combining the features of a walker and wheelchair that allows greater mobility for users.
As a child in rural Alberta, Canada, Gary Kurek watched his grandparents battle cancer and lose mobility, relying more and more on walkers and wheelchairs.
“I was very close to them my whole life,” Kurek says. “They were strong, independent people. After I saw them become debilitated by cancer, it just kind of shocked me. So my instant response was: ‘How can I make their lives better?’”
Kurek went on to develop a device that can be used as a walker or a powered wheelchair. The flexible design allows users to restore their strength instead of growing dependent on the support. The invention earned 18-year-old Kurek top honors at the 2010 Intel ISEF in San Jose. A year later, he won a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship.
Kurek launched a start-up called Get Mobility Solutions Inc. in hopes of bringing his invention to market. “I'm currently in the certification process and hope to have the product ready within a year,” he says.
The manual-walker and powered-wheelchair hybrid weighs just 35 pounds—about 12-percent lighter than most wheelchairs. It is powered by a rechargeable battery that provides up to 50 miles of use, according to Kurek.
“When you have huge numbers of people suffering from the same problems, it inspires me to continue my work,” he says. “This product can greatly improve the quality of life for those with physical disabilities.”
"At Intel ISEF I was able to gather feedback and validation on my own ideas while interacting and making friends with many great young people doing amazing work. Intel ISEF was a launch pad that propelled me to turn my projects into a full-time career.” – Gary Kurek
Intel believes young people are the key to solving global challenges. A solid math and science foundation coupled with skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and problem solving are crucial for their success.