Vietnamese students hope to make the grade with stair-climbing wheelchair

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Pham Thanh Truc (L) and Nguyen Hoang Ngan next to their invention, the TN98 wheelchair. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre Pham Thanh Truc (L) and Nguyen Hoang Ngan next to their invention, the TN98 wheelchair. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre

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Two high school students from Ho Chi Minh City are working night and day to perfect an affordable wheelchair that they say can climb most stairs easily and safely.
Nguyen Hoang Ngan and Pham Thanh Truc, 12th graders from Le Hong Phong High School, said they will bring their prototype to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) next month.
But claiming a prize is not their purpose. 
The teenagers told Tuoi Tre Newspaper that they hope the design can grab some corporate attention to enter mass production and assist disabled people, especially in Vietnam, where accessibility remains a big problem. 
The wheelchair, named TN98, has no wheels but uses two rubber tracks that mimic the movement of a tank. 
The tracks help the wheelchair move on any uneven and muddy surfaces. The wheelchair can easily climb up and down most sets of stairs at one stair per second. The chair will be automatically adjusted to keep its user in a balance position.
 The TN98 climbs up the stairs.
The students have built the prototype for months and discovered in testing that it can drive on 30 degrees.
They said it cost around VND17 million (US$760) to make such a stair-climbing wheelchair. That is much cheaper than similar wheelchairs, which may cost around VND300 million ($13,500).
This is not the first stair-climbing wheelchair.
Reuters in October reported that 10 students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Zurich University of the Arts designed the Scalevo Wheelchair, which could also climb stairs.
However, the Swiss wheelchair ascends the stairs backwards, therefore the driver has to observe what was going on through a screen, like a reverse parking camera in a car.
The new version, made by the two Vietnamese teenagers, aims to cut costs and make freedom of movement even more affordable for most users.

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