Using a wheelchair presents challenges, even if you have the best electric wheelchair on the market. One problem is that people who sit in wheelchairs for long periods of time can develop skin sores or skin ulcers, that are painful and difficult to heal.

But some researchers at the University of Texas have developed a potential solution to the problem. The University of Texas at Arlington has patented a smart seat cushion that uses changes in air pressure to redistribute the body weight of people who sit in wheelchairs for hours at a time and help prevent painful sores and ulcers.

“Pressure ulcers caused by long periods of sitting without relieving pressure at boney regions such as the tailbone frequently occur in people who spend significant amount of time on wheelchairs,” said Muthu Wijesundara, co-inventor of the technology and chief research scientist at UTA’s Research Institute or UTARI.

“Our technology improves on existing solutions by including real-time pressure monitoring and automated pressure modulation capabilities to help combat the formation of pressure ulcers or sores.”

The University of Texas researchers presented the results of studies they conducted with a full-sized seat cushion prototype at the ASME 2018 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference held August 26-29, 2018 in Quebec City, Canada.

Here’s how the smart cushion works: When a person sits on it, a network of sensors generates a pressure map and identifies areas where pressure relief is needed. The cushion uses this data to reconfigure its surface to offload and redistribute pressure from sensitive areas. The seat cushion also periodically changes its pressure profile to eliminate pressure buildup over time.

The researchers used healthy volunteers of different weights to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology using healthy volunteers with different weights.

“This technology has multitude of applications in biomedical fields,” Wijesundara said. “We really feel that it shows great promise in helping patients and their caregivers avoid the pain of stress ulcers and sores.”