Image of Stair-Climbing Wheelchair Stair-Climbing Wheelchair
Stair-Climbing Wheelchair, Ernesto Blanco, 1962

Ernesto Blanco has been waiting half a century for someone to build a full-scale working version of his self-propelled stair-climbing and descending wheelchair. In 1959, the National Inventors Council offered a $5,000 prize for the design of a wheelchair that could climb stairs. Blanco submitted his design in 1962. The Council never awarded the prize, but Blanco was so convinced his design would work that he built this one-quarter scale model to prove the concept. How? The secret is the angles and the fact that “static reactions are always vertical and have no tendency to slip,” explains Blanco.

Blanco not only brought this “inventional wisdom” to his MIT students, but also conveyed a deeply held belief that solving a problem such as a stair-climbing wheel was a form of social justice and, therefore, progress. About a decade ago, Dean Kamen introduced the iBot, a fantastic motorized wheelchair, but production stopped in 2009 because neither insurance nor Medicare would pay for it. Blanco sees that as a challenge and the reason he still wants someone to build his chair.

Stair-Climbing Wheelchair
Ernesto Blanco

photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum

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  • This object was voted MOST STYLISH in the MIT Museum Yearbook Awards on December 9, 2011!

    Second Fridays
    9 Dec 11 at 7:54 pm
  • I am final year mechanical engineering student, have idea to build wheel chair which can be esily climb on stairs. I want your some response and help to make this chair and i want to present this as my project.

    Prabhu Basanna Goden
    29 Jul 12 at 12:50 pm
  • My wife has to climb the stairs in our condominium on her hands and knees. good luck on the development Kyle Hollingsworth ’83

    Kyle Hollingsworth
    29 Sep 12 at 10:13 pm