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Title:
MOTOR-DRIVEN CHAIR STEERED BY SEAT ROTATION
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2018/158772
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A motor-driven chair (10, 100) has a central drive wheel (22) located beneath the seat (12) and linked so as to be aligned with the facing direction of the seat. A user turns the direction of motion by rotating the seat (12) relative to a surrounding stabilizer assembly (24) so as to turn the seat and the drive wheel towards a direction in which he wishes to move. A suspension arrangement maintains a desired distribution of user load between the drive wheel and the stabilizer assembly. A combination of fixed-axis wheels (28) with castered wheels (26) provides angular anchoring of the stabilizer assembly to facilitate the seat steering process. The entire structure is preferably foldable for easy transportation and storage.

Inventors:
OMER, Galin (2 Bustenai St, 02 Ramat Hasharon, 4730202, IL)
DOLEV, Eyal (310 2nd Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48103, US)
NAGLER, Ehud (73 Deganiot Street, Kiryat Tivon, 36054, IL)
SHULSHTEIN, Sharon (Kibbutz Gazit, 00 Kibbutz Gazit, 1934000, IL)
NIR, Amit (Amal 5 B, 33 Pardes Hana, 3701433, IL)
AVITAL, Shlomi (Amal 5 A, 33 Pardes Hana, 3701433, IL)
COHEN, Shay (Haprachim 2#20, 16 Ramat Hasharon, 4723116, IL)
Application Number:
IL2018/050232
Publication Date:
September 07, 2018
Filing Date:
March 01, 2018
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
TRAVELSYS4U LTD. (2 Bustenai Street, 02 Ramat Hasharon, 4730202, IL)
International Classes:
A61G5/00; A61G5/04; B60G11/00; B62D61/02
Foreign References:
US3938608A1976-02-17
AT384734B1987-12-28
US6341657B12002-01-29
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FRIEDMAN, Mark (Moshe Aviv Tower 54th Floor, 7 Jabotinski St, 07 Ramat- Gan, 5252007, IL)
Download PDF:
Claims:
WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising:

(a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction;

(b) a seat pole extending downwards from said seat element for supporting said seat element, said seat pole defining a vertical axis;

(c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to said axis of rotation, said drive wheel being located beneath said seat element substantially on said vertical axis, said drive wheel being mechanically linked to said seat pole so as to maintain said direction of forward motion aligned with said seat-facing direction so that rotation of said seat element about said vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of said direction of forward motion;

(d) a motor in driving connection to said drive wheel so as to drive said drive wheel to rotate about said horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction;

(e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to said seat pole, said stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting said seat pole in a vertical orientation, said stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of said seat pole about said vertical axis relative to said support structure; and

(f) a suspension arrangement associated with said seat pole, said drive wheel and said stabilizer assembly, said suspension arrangement being configured to distribute a load of the user sitting stably on said seat element so as to maintain a predefined range of proportions between a load supported by said drive wheel and a load supported by said stabilizer wheels.

2. The chair of claim 1, wherein said suspension arrangement is configured to distribute a load of the user sitting stably on said seat element so that a substantially constant proportion of the user's weight is supported by said drive wheel and a remainder of the user's weight is supported by said stabilizer wheels for users of weight anywhere between 50 kg and 100 kg, said substantially constant proportion being between 30% and 90% of the user's weight.

3. The chair of claim 1, wherein said suspension arrangement comprises a first suspension spring deployed to transfer load between said seat pole and said drive wheel and a second suspension spring deployed to transfer load between said seat pole and said support structure.

4. The chair of claim 1, wherein said suspension arrangement comprises a first hydraulic arrangement comprising at least one piston, said first hydraulic arrangement being deployed to transfer load between said seat pole and said drive wheel, and a second hydraulic arrangement comprising at least one piston, said second hydraulic arrangement being deployed to transfer load between said seat pole and said support structure, wherein said first and second hydraulic arrangements are interconnected by a pressure-equalization line.

5. The chair of claim 1, wherein said set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least one fixed-axis follower wheel and at least one caster wheel mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

6. The chair of claim 5, wherein said set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least two fixed-axis follower wheels and at least two caster wheels mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

7. The chair of claim 1, wherein said support structure comprises a center portion mechanically linked to said seat pole, a front portion hingedly connected to said center portion at a first hinge axis and supporting two front wheels from said set of stabilizer wheels, and a rear portion hingedly connected to said center portion at a second hinge axis and supporting two rear wheels from said set of stabilizer wheels, wherein said first and second hinge axes are parallel axes.

8. The chair of claim 7, wherein said front wheels are caster wheels mounted to said front portion via folding wings foldable along a secondary hinge axis non-parallel to said first hinge axis, said support structure further comprising a linkage deployed to fold said wings from a deployed position to a folded position as said front portion is rotated about said first hinge.

9. The chair of any preceding claim, further comprising a height adjustment mechanism integrated with said seat pole and deployed to adjust a height of said seat element above the underlying surface between a lowered position for mounting and dismounting and a raised position for driving.

10. The chair of claim 9, further comprising a footrest mechanically linked to said height adjustment mechanism so as to move vertically with said seat element so as to be brought into contact with the underlying surface in said lowered position of said seat element and to be raised away from the underlying surface in said raised position of said seat element, said seat element being rotatable about said vertical axis independent of said footrest.

11. The chair of claim 10, wherein said stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, and wherein said footrest is mechanically linked to said stabilizer assembly so as to obstruct folding of said stabilizer assembly from said deployed state to said folded state when said footrest is in said raised position.

12. The chair of claim 10, wherein said footrest has foot support surface including a rear portion proximal to said seat element and a front portion projecting away from said seat element, said front portion and said rear portion being connected at a hinged connection so as to allow folding inwards of said front portion of the foot support surface.

13. The chair of claim 9, wherein said stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, the chair further comprising a fold-assist mechanism for assisting folding of said stabilizer assembly, said fold-assist mechanism comprising a spring-loaded actuator associated with said height-adjustment mechanism and deployed such that lowering of said seat element from said raised position to said lowered position brings said actuator into engagement with a part of said stabilizer assembly and applies loading to an internal spring of said actuator, said loading being released during at least part of a folding motion of said stabilizer assembly.

14. A motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising: (a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction;

(b) a seat pole extending downwards from said seat element for supporting said seat element, said seat pole defining a vertical axis;

(c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to said axis of rotation, said drive wheel being located beneath said seat element substantially on said vertical axis, said drive wheel being mechanically linked to said seat pole so as to maintain said direction of forward motion aligned with said seat-facing direction so that rotation of said seat element about said vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of said direction of forward motion;

(d) a motor in driving connection to said drive wheel so as to drive said drive wheel to rotate about said horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction;

(e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to said seat pole, said stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting said seat pole in a vertical orientation, said stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of said seat pole about said vertical axis relative to said support structure,

wherein said set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least one fixed-axis follower wheel and at least one caster wheel mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

15. The chair of claim 14, wherein said set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least two fixed-axis follower wheels and at least two caster wheels mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

16. A motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising:

(a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction;

(b) a seat pole extending downwards from said seat element for supporting said seat element, said seat pole defining a vertical axis;

(c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to said axis of rotation, said drive wheel being located beneath said seat element substantially on said vertical axis, said drive wheel being mechanically linked to said seat pole so as to maintain said direction of forward motion aligned with said seat-facing direction so that rotation of said seat element about said vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of said direction of forward motion;

(d) a motor in driving connection to said drive wheel so as to drive said drive wheel to rotate about said horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction;

(e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to said seat pole, said stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting said seat pole in a vertical orientation, said stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of said seat pole about said vertical axis relative to said support structure,

wherein said support structure comprises a center portion mechanically linked to said seat pole, a front portion hingedly connected to said center portion at a first hinge axis and supporting two front wheels from said set of stabilizer wheels, and a rear portion hingedly connected to said center portion at a second hinge axis and supporting two rear wheels from said set of stabilizer wheels, wherein said first and second hinge axes are parallel axes.

17. The chair of claim 16, wherein said front wheels are caster wheels mounted to said front portion via folding wings foldable along a secondary hinge axis non-parallel to said first hinge axis, said support structure further comprising a linkage deployed to fold said wings from a deployed position to a folded position as said front portion is rotated about said first hinge.

18. A motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising:

(a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction;

(b) a seat pole extending downwards from said seat element for supporting said seat element, said seat pole defining a vertical axis;

(c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to said axis of rotation, said drive wheel being located beneath said seat element substantially on said vertical axis, said drive wheel being mechanically linked to said seat pole so as to maintain said direction of forward motion aligned with said seat-facing direction so that rotation of said seat element about said vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of said direction of forward motion;

(d) a motor in driving connection to said drive wheel so as to drive said drive wheel to rotate about said horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction;

(e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to said seat pole, said stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting said seat pole in a vertical orientation, said stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of said seat pole about said vertical axis relative to said support structure; and

(f) a height adjustment mechanism integrated with said seat pole and deployed to adjust a height of said seat element above the underlying surface between a lowered position for mounting and dismounting and a raised position for driving.

19. The chair of claim 18, further comprising a footrest mechanically linked to said height adjustment mechanism so as to move vertically with said seat element so as to be brought into contact with the underlying surface in said lowered position of said seat element and to be raised away from the underlying surface in said raised position of said seat element, said seat element being rotatable about said vertical axis independent of said footrest.

20. The chair of claim 19, wherein said stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, and wherein said footrest is mechanically linked to said stabilizer assembly so as to obstruct folding of said stabilizer assembly from said deployed state to said folded state when said footrest is in said raised position.

21. The chair of claim 19, wherein said footrest has foot support surface including a rear portion proximal to said seat element and a front portion projecting away from said seat element, said front portion and said rear portion being connected at a hinged connection so as to allow folding inwards of said front portion of the foot support surface.

22. The chair of claim 18, wherein said stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, the chair further comprising a fold-assist mechanism for assisting folding of said stabilizer assembly, said fold-assist mechanism comprising a spring-loaded actuator associated with said height-adjustment mechanism and deployed such that lowering of said seat element from said raised position to said lowered position brings said actuator into engagement with a part of said stabilizer assembly and applies loading to an internal spring of said actuator, said loading being released during at least part of a folding motion of said stabilizer assembly.

Description:
Motor- Driven Chair Steered by Seat Rotation

FIELD AND BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to mobility aids and, in particular, it concerns a motor- driven chair that is steered by rotation of the seat.

It is known to provide a wide range of mobility aids for individuals having various levels of limitations. Of particular relevance to the present invention is a category of mobility aids referred to herein as seat- steered motorized chairs, as exemplified by US patent no. 5,183,133. In such devices, a central drive wheel located beneath the seat is linked so as to be aligned with the facing direction of the seat. A user turns the direction of motion by rotating her seat relative to a surrounding stabilizing chassis so as to face towards the direction in which she wishes to move.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention is a motor-driven chair that is steered by rotation of the seat. According to the teachings of an embodiment of the present invention there is provided, a motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising: (a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat-facing direction; (b) a seat pole extending downwards from the seat element for supporting the seat element, the seat pole defining a vertical axis; (c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to the axis of rotation, the drive wheel being located beneath the seat element substantially on the vertical axis, the drive wheel being mechanically linked to the seat pole so as to maintain the direction of forward motion aligned with the seat-facing direction so that rotation of the seat element about the vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of the direction of forward motion; (d) a motor in driving connection to the drive wheel so as to drive the drive wheel to rotate about the horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction; (e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to the seat pole, the stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting the seat pole in a vertical orientation, the stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of the seat pole about the vertical axis relative to the support structure; and (f) a suspension arrangement associated with the seat pole, the drive wheel and the stabilizer assembly, the suspension arrangement being configured to distribute a load of the user sitting stably on the seat element so as to maintain a predefined range of proportions between a load supported by the drive wheel and a load supported by the stabilizer wheels.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the suspension arrangement is configured to distribute a load of the user sitting stably on the seat element so that a substantially constant proportion of the user's weight is supported by the drive wheel and a remainder of the user's weight is supported by the stabilizer wheels for users of weight anywhere between 50 kg and 100 kg, the substantially constant proportion being between 30% and 90% of the user's weight.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the suspension arrangement comprises a first suspension spring deployed to transfer load between the seat pole and the drive wheel and a second suspension spring deployed to transfer load between the seat pole and the support structure.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the suspension arrangement comprises a first hydraulic arrangement comprising at least one piston, the first hydraulic arrangement being deployed to transfer load between the seat pole and the drive wheel, and a second hydraulic arrangement comprising at least one piston, the second hydraulic arrangement being deployed to transfer load between the seat pole and the support structure, wherein the first and second hydraulic arrangements are interconnected by a pressure-equalization line.

There is also provided according to the teachings of an embodiment of the present invention, a motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising: (a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction; (b) a seat pole extending downwards from the seat element for supporting the seat element, the seat pole defining a vertical axis; (c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to the axis of rotation, the drive wheel being located beneath the seat element substantially on the vertical axis, the drive wheel being mechanically linked to the seat pole so as to maintain the direction of forward motion aligned with the seat-facing direction so that rotation of the seat element about the vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of the direction of forward motion; (d) a motor in driving connection to the drive wheel so as to drive the drive wheel to rotate about the horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction; (e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to the seat pole, the stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting the seat pole in a vertical orientation, the stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of the seat pole about the vertical axis relative to the support structure, wherein the set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least one fixed-axis follower wheel and at least one caster wheel mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the set of stabilizer wheels comprises at least two fixed-axis follower wheels and at least two caster wheels mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair.

There is also provided according to the teachings of an embodiment of the present invention, a motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising: (a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction; (b) a seat pole extending downwards from the seat element for supporting the seat element, the seat pole defining a vertical axis; (c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to the axis of rotation, the drive wheel being located beneath the seat element substantially on the vertical axis, the drive wheel being mechanically linked to the seat pole so as to maintain the direction of forward motion aligned with the seat-facing direction so that rotation of the seat element about the vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of the direction of forward motion; (d) a motor in driving connection to the drive wheel so as to drive the drive wheel to rotate about the horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction; (e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to the seat pole, the stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting the seat pole in a vertical orientation, the stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of the seat pole about the vertical axis relative to the support structure, wherein the support structure comprises a center portion mechanically linked to the seat pole, a front portion hingedly connected to the center portion at a first hinge axis and supporting two front wheels from the set of stabilizer wheels, and a rear portion hingedly connected to the center portion at a second hinge axis and supporting two rear wheels from the set of stabilizer wheels, wherein the first and second hinge axes are parallel axes.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the front wheels are caster wheels mounted to the front portion via folding wings foldable along a secondary hinge axis non-parallel to the first hinge axis, the support structure further comprising a linkage deployed to fold the wings from a deployed position to a folded position as the front portion is rotated about the first hinge.

There is also provided according to the teachings of an embodiment of the present invention, a motor-driven chair for propelling a user over an underlying surface, the chair comprising: (a) a seat element having support surfaces for supporting the user sitting in a seat- facing direction; (b) a seat pole extending downwards from the seat element for supporting the seat element, the seat pole defining a vertical axis; (c) a drive wheel rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion perpendicular to the axis of rotation, the drive wheel being located beneath the seat element substantially on the vertical axis, the drive wheel being mechanically linked to the seat pole so as to maintain the direction of forward motion aligned with the seat-facing direction so that rotation of the seat element about the vertical axis causes a corresponding rotation of the direction of forward motion; (d) a motor in driving connection to the drive wheel so as to drive the drive wheel to rotate about the horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction; (e) a stabilizer assembly mechanically linked to the seat pole, the stabilizer assembly comprising a set of stabilizer wheels mounted on a support structure for supporting the seat pole in a vertical orientation, the stabilizer assembly allowing rotation of the seat pole about the vertical axis relative to the support structure; and (f) a height adjustment mechanism integrated with the seat pole and deployed to adjust a height of the seat element above the underlying surface between a lowered position for mounting and dismounting and a raised position for driving.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, there is also provided a footrest mechanically linked to the height adjustment mechanism so as to move vertically with the seat element so as to be brought into contact with the underlying surface in the lowered position of the seat element and to be raised away from the underlying surface in the raised position of the seat element, the seat element being rotatable about the vertical axis independent of the footrest.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, and wherein the footrest is mechanically linked to the stabilizer assembly so as to obstruct folding of the stabilizer assembly from the deployed state to the folded state when the footrest is in the raised position.

According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the footrest has foot support surface including a rear portion proximal to the seat element and a front portion projecting away from the seat element, the front portion and the rear portion being connected at a hinged connection so as to allow folding inwards of the front portion of the foot support surface. According to a further feature of an embodiment of the present invention, the stabilizer assembly is a foldable stabilizer assembly foldable from a deployed state for supporting the chair to a folded state for compact storage and transport, the chair further comprising a fold- assist mechanism for assisting folding of the stabilizer assembly, the fold-assist mechanism comprising a spring-loaded actuator associated with the height-adjustment mechanism and deployed such that lowering of the seat element from the raised position to the lowered position brings the actuator into engagement with a part of the stabilizer assembly and applies loading to an internal spring of the actuator, the loading being released during at least part of a folding motion of the stabilizer assembly. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention is herein described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein:

FIGS. 1A and IB are isometric views of a motor-driven chair, constructed and operative according to an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 2A is a vertical cross-sectional view taken along a mid-plane of the motor-driven chair of FIG. 1A;

FIG. 2B is an enlarged view of the lower region of FIG. 2A;

FIGS. 3A-3D are a sequence of isometric views illustrating a sequence of operations for folding the motor-driven chair of FIG. 1 A;

FIGS. 4A and 4B are enlarged views of the regions of FIGS. 3C and 3D marked by a circle, respectively;

FIG. 5 is a schematic top view showing a sequence of positions of the motor-driven chair of FIG. 1 A during turning;

FIG. 6 is a cut-away isometric view of a suspension arrangement from a motor-driven chair according to a variant implementation of the present invention;

FIG. 7A is a view of a suspension arrangement from the view of the motor-driven chair presented in FIG. 2B;

FIG. 7B is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 7A marked by an ellipse;

FIG. 8A is a view similar to FIG. 2B illustrating a variant implementation of a stabilizer assembly with interlocking configurations, the stabilizer assembly being shown in a deployed state;

FIG. 8B is an enlarged view of a region of FIG. 8A designated by a dashed ellipse; FIGS. 9A and 9B are views similar to FIGS. 8 A and 8B, respectively, showing the stabilizer assembly in a folded state;

FIG. 10 is a schematic isometric view of a motor-driven chair according to a further embodiment of the present invention, employing a hydraulic suspension arrangement;

FIG. 11A is a cut-away isometric view of the motor-driven chair of FIG. 10 cut along a vertical mid-plane;

FIG. 1 IB is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 11 A designated by an ellipse;

FIG. 12 is a partial, isometric cut-away view of a variant implementation of a motor- driven chair according to the present invention, illustrating an alternative implementation of a suspension arrangement;

FIG. 13 is a schematic isometric view of a further variant implementation of a motor- driven chair according to the present invention, illustrating an additional implementation of a suspension arrangement;

FIGS. 14A and 14B are rear isometric view of a further embodiment of a motor-driven chair, constructed and operative according to an embodiment of the present invention, shown in an open and folded state, respectively;

FIGS. 15A and 15B are front isometric views of the chair of FIG. 14A shown in a seat- raised and seat-lowered state, respectively;

FIGS. 16A-16C are side views of the chair of FIG. 14A shown in a seat-raised, a seat- lowered and a folded state, respectively;

FIG. 17A is an isometric view of the chair of FIG. 14A shown in a seat-raised state, cut away along a central plane of symmetry;

FIGS. 17B and 17C are cross-sectional views taken along a central plane of symmetry of the chair of FIG. 14A, shown in a seat-raised and seat-lowered state, respectively;

FIG. 18A is an enlarged view of the region of FIG. 17B designated by dashed line A;

FIG. 18B is a view of the region of FIG. 18A designated by dashed line B, shown after lowering of the seat and folding of a stabilizer assembly; and

FIGS. 19A-19F are a sequence of isometric views of the chair of FIG. 14A showing a sequence of folding the chair from a fully-open seat-down state to a fully folded state. DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention is a motor-driven chair that is steered by rotation of the seat. The principles and operation of motor-driven chairs according to the present invention may be better understood with reference to the drawings and the accompanying description. Referring now to the drawings, FIGS. 1A-13 illustrate various aspects and variants of a motor-driven chair, generally designated 10, for propelling a user over an underlying surface. In general terms, chair 10 has a seat element 12 having support surfaces 14, 16 for supporting the user sitting in a "seat-facing direction". A seat pole 18 extends downwards from seat element 12 for supporting the seat element. Seat pole 18 may be taken to define a vertical axis 20. A drive wheel 22, rotatable about a horizontal axis of rotation so as to define a direction of forward motion F perpendicular to the axis of rotation, is located beneath seat element 12 substantially on vertical axis 20. Drive wheel 22 is mechanically linked to seat pole 18 so as to maintain the direction of forward motion F aligned with the seat-facing direction of seat element 12 so that rotation of the seat element about vertical axis 20 causes a corresponding rotation of direction of forward motion F.

A motor, typically implemented as a hub motor within drive wheel 22 and not shown here in detail, is in driving connection to drive wheel 22 so as to drive the drive wheel to rotate about its horizontal axis of rotation, and thereby propel the chair in the seat-facing direction. In order to maintain stability of chair 10, a stabilizer assembly 24 is mechanically linked to seat pole 18. Stabilizer assembly 24 includes a set of stabilizer wheels 26, 28 mounted on a support structure, here formed from a mid-portion 30 with associated front and back frames 32 and 34, so as to support seat pole 18 in a vertical orientation. Stabilizer assembly 24 is configured to allow rotation of seat pole 18 about vertical axis 20 relative to the support structure.

In this context, various aspects of the present invention provide a number of particularly advantageous features relating to implementation of chair 10. Specifically, according to a first non-limiting set of particularly preferred embodiments of the present invention, chair 10 is provided with a suspension arrangement associated with seat pole 18, drive wheel 20 and stabilizer assembly 24, that is configured to distribute a load of a user sitting stably on seat element 12 so as to distribute the load supported by drive wheel 20 and stabilizer assembly 24 according to desired proportions. Specifically, the implementation of the suspension arrangement is preferably such that both the load on the stabilizer assembly and on the drive wheel vary in correlation to the weight supported by seat element 12.

The significance of this feature may best be understood by contrast to certain prior devices of the central-drive-wheel, seat-steered type, such as US5183133, where a spring biases the outrigger frame downwards with a fixed force while all remaining load is applied rigidly to the drive wheel. Such a structure leads to extreme variations on the load applied to the drive wheel, which may result in loss of traction for small loads and instability of the device at high loads. In contrast, according to a first aspect of certain particularly preferred implementations of the present invention, the suspension arrangement associated is configured to distribute a load of a user sitting stably on seat element 12 and passing downwards through with seat pole 18 so as to be distributed between drive wheel 20 and stabilizer assembly 24 according to desired proportions. Specifically, instead of the load on the stabilizer assembly 24 (or alternatively, on drive wheel 20) being fixed, the load on each preferably increases monotonically as a function of increasing load, preferably over the entire range of normal bodyweight to which the device is intended to cater, for example, at least between 50 kg and 100 kg, and in some cases, over a range of at least 30 kg to 150 kg.

According to a first particularly preferred set of embodiments, the aforementioned suspension arrangement is implemented using a first spring arrangement to transfer load from seat pole 18 to drive wheel 20, and a second spring arrangement to transfer load from seat pole 18 to stabilizer assembly 24. In a first example best seen in FIG. 2B, the first spring arrangement is implemented as a first helical compression spring 36, and the second spring arrangement is implemented as a second helical compression spring 38. In the case illustrated here, compression spring 36 is deployed in an inner channel, while compression spring 38 is deployed in an annular channel surrounding the inner channel. Another functionally-equivalent suspension arrangement, similarly labeled, is illustrated in FIG. 6, where the components are visually clearer. (This arrangement is equivalent to that of FIG. 2B, other than that the stabilizer assembly 24 is implemented in a different manner, with radially-projecting folding arms 40 about a central portion 42, here implemented as a cylinder, each folding arm 40 supporting a caster wheel 26.)

In the above examples, subdivision of the load on the seat between the drive wheel and the stabilizer assembly occurs based on the relative spring constants of the two spring arrangements, adjusted according to any initial offset between their respective states of loading in their starting positions (i.e., unequal preloading). In the absence of any offset, the proportions of the load transferred to the drive wheel and the stabilizer assembly remain roughly constant as the load varies. If an offset is provided, the proportions may vary, but in each case, the load on both the drive wheel and the stabilizer assembly increase monotonically as a function of increasing load, thereby maintaining the weight distribution within predefined limits that ensure reliable driving engagement with the floor and stability of the structure while in use with a wide range of user weights. In most particularly preferred implementations, the distribution of the load on the seat is maintained within the range of 30% to 90% of the user's weight on the drive wheel, with the remaining weight transferred via the stabilizer assembly. Referring now to FIGS. 10-1 IB, these illustrate an alternative embodiment according to an aspect of the present invention in which the suspension arrangement includes a first hydraulic arrangement, with at least one piston 44, deployed to transfer load between seat pole 18 and drive wheel 22, and a second hydraulic arrangement, with at least one piston 46, deployed to transfer load between seat pole 18 and stabilizer assembly 24. The first and second hydraulic arrangements are interconnected by a pressure-equalization line 48. Since the pressure applied to the two pistons is equalized via line 48, the force (load) transferred to drive wheel 22 and stabilizer assembly 24 are proportional to the surface area of the pistons, thereby subdividing the load in a predefined desired ratio, such as those discussed above.

In the particularly compact implementation illustrated here, piston 46 is implemented as an annular piston slidingly engaged around a central shaft of seat pole 18, while pressure- equalization line 48 runs through the central shaft. Clearly, alternative implementations may be constructed employing more conventional hydraulic actuator structures, such as side-by-side cylinders/pistons, optionally with a number of small cylinders deployed around a central larger cylinder, all as will be clear to a person having ordinary skill in the art of hydraulic systems.

Furthermore, although illustrated in the context of a distinct structural embodiment, which is here illustrated only schematically, it should be noted that the hydraulic suspension arrangement option can readily be implemented also in a device which is, in all other respects, structurally similar to the embodiment of FIGS. 1-5, thus combining this feature with a range of other features of the present invention as described herein in relation to that embodiment.

The term "hydraulic" is used herein in the description and claims to refer to any system or component that is operated by fluid pressure, whether by liquid or by gas (the latter being also referred to as "pneumatic"). Thus the hydraulic implementation option described herein may be implemented using either an incompressible hydraulic fluid, such as water or oil, or a compressible fluid, such as air or another gas or gaseous mixture. In the case of a gas-filled system, it may be advantageous to provide a pre-pressurized starting pressure within the hydraulic system.

Turning now to FIGS. 12 and 13, while the implementations of the suspension arrangement described thus far distribute load centrally to stabilizer assembly 24, it may in certain cases be preferably to provide individually responsible suspension units for each stabilizer wheel, or for subsets of the stabilizing wheels. Such options are illustrated schematically in FIGS. 12 and 13.

Specifically, FIG. 12 illustrates an implementation, generally similar to that of FIG. 6, in which elements of stabilizer assembly 24 are interconnected so as to be rotatable relative to seat pole 18 while rigidly transferring vertical load to elements of stabilizer assembly 24. Individual spring suspension elements 50 integrated with each stabilizer wheel 26 operate in parallel with spring 36 to distribute an applied load between drive wheel 22 and the stabilizer wheels 26.

FIG. 13 illustrates a conceptually similar hydraulic implementation in which separate hydraulic cylinders 52 are deployed to transfer load from the elements of stabilizer assembly 24 to stabilizer wheels 26, in parallel to the central hydraulic cylinder/piston arrangement 44 which transfers load to drive wheel 22. A set of pressure-equalization connectors, shown here schematically as tubing 54, ensure equalization of pressure between hydraulic cylinders 52 and central hydraulic cylinder 44. As before, the distribution of the load between the wheels is proportional to the surface area of the various pistons, thereby subdividing the load between the various wheels in a predefined ratio.

In all of the above discussions regarding implementations of the suspension arrangement, the described subdivision of load relates to distribution of a load applied vertically downwards on seat element 12 and passing axially downwards along seat pole 18. This is typically the case for a user sitting stably on seat element 12, where the user's center of gravity typically lies within the area of the seat, which is typically within about 30 cm from vertical axis 20, and therefore acts primarily downwards. Clearly, during mounting and alighting to and from chair 10, or under conditions of externally applied forces, the normal distribution of load may be momentarily disrupted. Additional preferred features relating to stability of the device during mounting and alighting will be described below with reference to the embodiment of FIGS. 14A-19F.

Turning now to a further aspect of certain particularly preferred implementations of the present invention, the present invention provides a motor-driven chair that is steered by rotation of the seat, so that the forward direction F of drive wheel 22 is always aligned with the forward direction of seat element 12, and the user changes direction by turning her seat to face the direction towards which she wishes to move. Devices of this type have hitherto been designed with an "outrigger" or stabilizer structure which is omnidirectional, meaning that the user can turn towards any arbitrary direction and start moving in a straight line in that direction, and a set of caster wheels around the stabilizer structure will immediately align with the new direction.

Although providing very high mobility, the use of an omnidirectional stabilizer structure has been found to present certain problems. Specifically, in order to change the direction of the seat, and hence of drive wheel 22, the user must apply a considerable turning moment about vertical axis 20 to overcome friction between drive wheel 22 and the underlying surface. This turning moment is preferably achieved by the user applying a lateral force with her feet against the stabilizer structure. It has been found, however, that such lateral force can sometimes have the undesired effect of rotating the stabilizing structure about the drive wheel rather than turning the drive wheel.

To address this problem, certain particularly preferred implementations of the present invention, such as that illustrated in FIGS. 1A-5, employ a combination of at least one fixed- axis follower wheel 28 and at least one caster wheel 26 mounted so as to swivel to accommodate turning of the chair. In the particularly preferred implementation shown here, chair 10 has at least two fixed-axis follower wheels 28, here carried by a rear frame 34, and at least two caster wheels 26, here carried by a front frame 32. Fixed-axis follower wheels 24 are inherently unable to align in a tangential direction relative to seat pole 18, and are therefore highly effective at preventing rotation of the stabilizing structure about the drive wheel. As a result, a turning moment applied by the user's foot against the stabilizer structure reliably achieves the desired result of turning the seat and the drive wheel.

The motion resulting from this configuration is illustrated schematically in FIG. 5, where a solid line P marks the path of the central axis 20 during turning. At position A, motorized chair has the seat aligned for traveling in a straight line from left to right as shown. At position B, the user has chosen to turn to her right, by applying leftward force with her foot to the front frame 32 so as to turn the seat, and hence also the forward direction of the drive wheel, to the right. Since fixed-axis wheels 28 now do not face in the same direction as the seat, and cannot advance in the new forward direction of the drive wheel, wheels 28 trace circular paths as they follow the laterally advancing drive wheel. As a result, as motion continues, the fixed-axis follower wheels 28 on rear frame 34 track around circular paths about a center of turning O defined the intersection of the rotation axis directions of the drive wheel and the fixed-axis wheels. The caster wheels 26 also align themselves with their corresponding circular paths, each according to its distance from center O. This circular motion will continue (e.g., through position C) as long as the user maintains the side-turned state of the seat. At whatever point the user chooses to return the seat to a symmetrical position relative to the front and rear frames, the fixed-axis wheels will fall into line behind the seat and resume a straight path, as from position D as shown. Although shown here schematically as abrupt changes of seat direction occurring at positions B and D, the steering adjustments will in most cases be implemented smoothly, resulting in smoother changes in direction. However the operating principles remain the same. Turning now to a further aspect of the present invention, it is a preferred feature of certain embodiments of the present invention that motorized chair 10 is implemented so as to be foldable for convenient transportation and storage. Specifically, the seat-rotation- steered structure of the present invention leads to what is in essence a single-column structure, where the load on the seat is transferred via a single seat pole 18, rendering the core of the support structure relatively compact. However, in order to render chair 10 stable under normal conditions of usage, it is necessary to provide a considerable spread between the various stabilizer wheels 24, 26. Certain preferred embodiments of the present invention provide simple and effective folding mechanisms which render the device easy to fold and open, and provide a compact form for easy transportation and storage.

Various aspects of a folding mechanism according to one preferred implementation of the present invention are illustrated in the folding sequence of FIGS. 3A-3D and enlarged views FIGS. 4A-4B. Firstly, seat element 12 is first preferably foldable, such as by folding down rear support surface 16 and, where present, arm rests 56, against support surface 14 (FIG. 3 A), and then preferably pivoting the entire seat element 12 to as to tip into close relation to seat pole 18 (FIG. 3B).

Folding of the support structure (stabilizer assembly 24) is here achieved by providing a center portion 30 mechanically linked to seat pole 18, a front portion (frame 32) hingedly connected to center portion 30 at a first hinge axis 58 and supporting two front stabilizer wheels 26, and a rear portion (frame 34) hingedly connected to center portion 30 at a second hinge axis 60 and supporting two rear stabilizer wheels 28. First and second hinge axes 58 and 60 are preferably parallel axes, thereby facilitating folding of the front and rear frames 32 and 34 into close proximity.

According to a further preferred feature illustrated here, caster wheels 26 are mounted to front frame 32 via folding wings 62 foldable along a secondary hinge axis 64 that is most preferably non-parallel to hinge axis 58, and in this case, substantially perpendicular to hinge axis 58. In order to simplify deployment and folding of wings 62, stabilizer assembly 24 preferably includes a linkage deployed to fold wings 62 from a deployed position to a folded position (FIGS. 4A and 4B) as front frame 32 is rotated about hinge 58. In the non-limiting example illustrated here, the linkage for each wing 62 employs a bar 66 hingedly attached to center portion 30 at an offset from hinge 58, and linked to a slider 68 which slides along side rails of front frame 32. A linking rod 70 is linked via pivotal connections to slider 68 and wing 62. As a result of this structure, angular rotation of front frame 32 from its fully-raised operation position downwards towards its folded position causes bars 66 to draw sliders 68 along the side rails of front frame 32 in the direction of hinge 58, thereby also pulling on linking rods 70 so as to fold inwards wings 62 to the folded position of FIG. 4B. Conversely, on opening of front frame 32 to its deployed state, the motion is reversed and wings 62 are pushed outwards to their deployed state, ready for use. This mechanism thus provides an enhanced lateral wheelbase for stabilizer assembly 24 while achieving a highly compact folded state.

In the example illustrated here, the folding wings feature is employed only in front frame 32 while rear frame 34 has a fixed geometry. A variant implementation illustrated below (see FIGS. 14A-19F) employs folding wings 62 on both the front and rear frames.

FIGS. 8A-9B illustrate a further option according to which a mechanical linkage coordinates folding of front and rear frames 32 and 34. In the example illustrated here, each frame is provided with a partial gear wheel configuration 72 and 74, which are centered on the respective axes 58 and 60, and which inter-engage to ensure equal and opposite rotation of the two frames between their deployed state (FIGS. 8 A and 8B) and their fully folded state (FIGS. 9 A and 9B). The gear wheel configurations as shown also include abutment surfaces 76 which delimit the fully raised deployed position of the frames. The partial gear wheel form of engagement is one of a number of different forms of mechanical linkage which can be used to coordinate folding of the front and back frames, with a range of additional options being within the abilities of a person of ordinary skill in the art.

Turning now to the remaining features of motorized chair 10, the device also includes a mobile power source, typically in the form of one or more rechargeable electrical batteries, which may advantageously be housed in a volume beneath seat support surface 14, or alternatively within central portion 30 of stabilizer assembly 24. A forward/reverse speed control input (not shown) is provided to the user, typically either integrated with an arm rest 56 or as a separate hand-held controller, which may be connected via a cable to the side of the seat. Wiring between the battery, the controller and the drive motor typically passes along a cable channel which passes through seat pole 18. For certain applications, simple electric control of current to the motor is sufficient for a practical application. Optionally, an electronic controller with various additional functionality may be used, providing for example, monitoring of battery charge status and battery health, monitoring and limiting speed of motion and/or load on the motor. Implementation of all such options is a routine task for a person having ordinary skill in the art, and for conciseness, these details will not be further discussed here. Most preferably, a brake configuration is provided on one or more of the wheels of the device to provide stability and safety while the device is stopped, and particularly during mounting and dismounting. As best seen in FIGS. 2B and 7A, the implementation illustrated here provides a mechanical brake configuration 78, typically a friction brake, which acts on drive wheel 22. The brake is preferably operated manually via an actuator cable (not shown) which passes upwards to a handle (not shown) at the side of the seat. Alternatively, a foot- operated brake may be provided, either on the drive wheel or on one or more of the stabilizer wheels.

In particularly preferred implementations of the present invention (all embodiments), the chair is configured to have a folded size and weight that are suitable to render it portable. In certain particularly preferred implementations, the overall weight of the chair is no more than about 15 kg, and most preferably no more than about 12 kg, thereby rendering the chair readily portable. The folded form preferably has a largest dimension no more than 1 meter, and preferably no more than about 80 cm, and preferably has at least one dimension less than about 50 cm.

Turning now to FIGS. 14A-19F, there is shown a further particularly preferred implementation of a chair 100, constructed and operative according to the teachings of the present invention. In general terms, chair 100 is similar to that of FIGS. 1A-5 in both structure and function, and analogous features are labeled similarly. Thus, here too, chair 100 has a seat element 12 having support surfaces 14, 16 for supporting the user sitting in a "seat-facing direction", and a seat pole 18 extending downwards from seat element 12 for supporting the seat element and defining a vertical axis 20. A drive wheel 22 defining a direction of forward motion F perpendicular to its axis of rotation is located beneath seat element 12 substantially on vertical axis 20. Drive wheel 22 is mechanically linked to seat pole 18 so that rotation of the seat element about vertical axis 20 causes a corresponding rotation of direction of forward motion F.

"Substantially on the axis" in this context refers to a position of the wheel which is sufficiently "on axis" to facilitate steering of the wheel direction by rotation about the axis without enough frictional resistance to make it difficult for the user to turn the seat. This may be achieved using a single central wheel as shown or a pair of wheels near the axis. A larger spacing between two wheels may be accommodated where the drive wheels are driven via a differential gear, or by using two independently driven drive wheels which have relatively low resistance to rolling when not powered. These latter options however are considered unnecessarily bulky and complex for particularly preferred implementations. The implementation of FIGS. 14A-19F also includes a suspension arrangement similar to that of FIGS. 1A-5. As best seen in FIGS. 17A-17C and 18A, the suspension arrangement is implemented using a first spring arrangement (e.g., first helical compression spring 36) to transfer load from seat pole 18 to drive wheel 20, and a second spring arrangement (e.g., second helical compression spring 38) to transfer load from seat pole 18 to stabilizer assembly 24. The suspension arrangement is not illustrated here in detail, but will be fully understood by reference to the suspension arrangement of FIGS. 1A-5 discussed above, and can also be implemented using the various other spring-based or hydraulic options described above.

The stabilizer assembly 24 here too preferably employs a combination of castor wheels 26 and fixed-axis wheels 28, with a deployed configuration and functionality analogous to that described above. Folding of the stabilizer assembly 24 is achieved here also by providing a center portion 30 mechanically linked to seat pole 18, a front portion (frame 32) hingedly connected to center portion 30 at a first hinge axis 58 and supporting two front stabilizer wheels 26, and a rear portion (frame 34) hingedly connected to center portion 30 at a second hinge axis 60 and supporting two rear stabilizer wheels 28. First and second hinge axes 58 and 60 are preferably parallel axes, thereby facilitating folding of the front and rear frames 32 and 34 into close proximity.

Caster wheels 26 are mounted to front frame 32 via folding wings 62 foldable along a secondary hinge axis 64 that is most preferably non-parallel to hinge axis 58, and in this case, substantially perpendicular to hinge axis 58. Similarly, fixed-axis wheels 28 are here mounted to rear frame 34 via folding wings 62 foldable along a secondary hinge axis 64 that is most preferably non-parallel to hinge axis 60, and in this case, substantially perpendicular to hinge axis 60. In order to simplify deployment and folding of wings 62, stabilizer assembly 24 preferably includes a linkage deployed to fold wings 62 from a deployed position to a folded position (FIGS. 19B-19E) as front frame 32 and rear frame 34 are rotated about their respective hinges 58. In the non-limiting example illustrated here, the linkage for each wing 62 employs a bar 66 hingedly attached to center portion 30 at an offset from the respective hinge 58 or 60, and linked to a slider 68 which slides along side rails of front or rear frame 32 or 34, respectively. A linking rod 70 is linked via pivotal connections to slider 68 and wing 62. As a result of this structure, angular rotation of front frame 32 and rear frame 34 from their fully- raised operation positions downwards towards their folded positions causes bars 66 to draw sliders 68 along the side rails of frames in the direction of the hinges, thereby also pulling on linking rods 70 so as to fold inwards wings 62 to the folded position of FIG. 19E. Conversely, on opening of the front and rear frames 32 and 34 to their deployed states, the motion is reversed and wings 62 are pushed outwards to their deployed state, ready for use. This mechanism thus provides an enhanced lateral wheelbase for stabilizer assembly 24 while achieving a highly compact folded state.

This implementation also features a mechanical linkage to coordinate folding of front and rear frames 32 and 34, again implemented according to a non-limiting example using partial gear wheel configuration 72 and 74, centered on the respective axes 58 and 60, which inter-engage to ensure simultaneous opposite rotation of the two frames between their deployed state and their fully folded state (FIGS. 19B-19E). Here too, the gear wheel configurations may include abutment surfaces which delimit the fully raised deployed position of the frames.

Chair 100 as illustrated here includes a number of distinctive features which are believed to provide additional advantages over chair 10 described above in a number of ways. Firstly, it has been found valuable to provide a height adjustment mechanism which facilitates mounting of chair 100 by the user. In particular, according to one particularly preferred feature of chair 100, a footrest 102 is mechanically linked to a height adjustment mechanism so as to be selectively lowered into contact with an underlying surface (FIGS. 14A and 15B). Contact between footrest 102 and the underlying surface ensures that the chair is stable while the user puts his weight on the footrest while mounting the chair. The footrest is then raised away from the underlying surface by the height adjustment mechanism in order to provide a required clearance from the floor before the user begins to travel (FIG. 15A). Prior to dismounting, the footrest is again lowered to the ground, thereby ensuring stability also during dismounting.

While the aforementioned footrest adjustment can be provided independent of the other elements of the chair, it is believed to be preferable that the height difference between footrest 102 and seat support surface 14 be maintained constant, to provide a stable and comfortable sitting configuration for the user. For this reason, it is typically considered preferable that the height adjustment mechanism is integrated with seat pole 18 and is deployed to adjust a height of the seat element above the underlying surface between a lowered position for mounting and dismounting and a raised position for driving. In this case, footrest 102 is preferably mechanically linked to the height adjustment mechanism so as to move vertically with seat element 12 while the seat element remains rotatable about the vertical axis independent of the footrest. Most preferably, footrest 102 when raised engages complementary features of the stabilizer assembly so as to help ensure that the footrest does not swivel about the vertical axis. Additionally, according to certain particularly preferred implementations, the surface of footrest 102 in the raised position lies roughly level with upper surfaces of the front portion 32 of the stabilizer assembly, thereby providing a combined upper surface against which the feet of the user can bear while steering the chair.

A non-limiting exemplary implementation of a height adjustment mechanism is illustrated schematically in the cut-away and cross-sectional views of FIGS. 17A-17C. Specifically, in this example, the core of seat pole 18 is implemented as the shaft of a linear actuator, typically with a drive motor and transmission unit 104 fastened on the inside of a cavity within seat support surface 14. The linear actuator may be any type of linear actuator rated for lifting an appropriate range of loads over an appropriate range of motion, including but not limited to, threaded-rod actuators and hydraulic actuators. For a wide range of applications, an actuator rated for loads of up to about 1500N and with a range of travel of about 10 cm may be suitable. Such actuators are readily available commercially from many sources, and are therefore not described here in detail. The actuator is preferably chosen to provide end linkages which are non-rotatable, thereby helping to maintain the angular alignment of the seat and the drive wheel, as above. The bottom end of the actuator preferably bears on the suspension arrangement through which the seat load is distributed between the drive wheel and the stabilizer arrangement, all as already described above.

Parenthetically, although the footrest of chair 100 is believed to be particularly advantageous, the previous embodiments of chair 10 may also optionally be enhanced by providing a height adjustment mechanism for the seat element 12, even where no adjustable footrest is provided. In the latter case, the lowered position of the seat is used to facilitate mounting and dismounting while the user has her feet on the floor, and the user's feet are then transferred to the stabilizer assembly before, during or after raising of the seat, ready for driving.

Where a height adjustment mechanism is provided, the chair is preferably operated by an electronic control system which includes logic circuitry and/or a processing system configured by appropriate hardware configuration and/or software to ensure appropriate sequencing of operations. For example, actuating the drive wheel to travel forwards or backwards is disabled while the seat is in the lowered state. Optionally, a user input to drive the chair may automatically be translated into a "raise-seat" command, in preparation for driving. Conversely, lowering of the seat may advantageously be disabled while the chair is moving, but may occur automatically on actuation of an "off command, prior to powering-down of the controller. As before, the control system may be physically housed within the seat internal volume, in the housing of the central portion of the stabilizer assembly, or anywhere else within the chair assembly, either as a single unit or as a number of distributed components. Inputs to the control system are preferably provided via a manually operated lever or rocker- switch 122 and/or various other buttons or other inputs, preferably deployed on one or both chair handles 124. The inputs are typically connected to the control system via wires which pass within the handles, although wireless connections are also possible, as is known in the art of low-power wireless input devices.

Turning now in more detail to the particularly preferred but non-limiting exemplary implementation of chair 100 illustrated here, footrest 102 is here supported on a bracket 106 which is hinged to a support arm 108 which projects from an upper-column housing 110. Seat element 12 and the drive motor and transmission unit 104 of the linear actuator are linked to upper-column housing 110 so as to move vertically as a unit while allowing rotation of the seat-actuator assembly relative to the upper-column housing 110.

Bracket 106 is formed here with a slot 112 within which is engaged a pin of stabilizer assembly 24. The pin-in-slot engagement is preferably configured such that, in the raised position of the seat and footrest, the pin is sufficiently near to the bottom of the slot that it prevents downward folding of the front frame 32, thereby preventing folding of the device when the seat is raised. When the seat is lowered, the pin sits higher in slot 112 as seen in FIG. 16B. In this position, the folding motion of the stabilizer assembly is allowed, and the pin-in- slot engagement additionally guides pivoting of bracket 106 about its hinge to a more compact inward-folded position as shown in FIG. 16C.

According to another particularly preferred but non-limiting feature of footrest 102, the footrest has a foot support surface including a rear portion 112 proximal to the seat element and a front portion 114 projecting away from the seat element 14. Front portion 114 and rear portion 112 are connected at a hinged connection 116 so as to allow folding inwards of front portion 114 of the foot support surface (see FIG. 19B). This folding motion renders the footrest more compact for the folded state of chair 100. In certain particularly preferred cases, the folded state may also be used when the seat is raised and in use, for example, rendering it easier to approach close to a table or cupboard.

Turning now to a further particularly preferred but non-limiting feature of chair 100, the chair as illustrated here includes a fold-assist mechanism 118 for assisting folding of stabilizer assembly 24. As best seen in the expanded views of FIGS. 18A and 18B, fold-assist mechanism 118 is implemented here as a spring-loaded actuator associated with the height- adjustment mechanism and deployed such that lowering of the seat element from the raised position (FIG. 18 A) to the lowered position (FIG. 18B) brings the actuator into engagement with a part of the stabilizer assembly, in this case, an arm of rear portion 34, and applies loading to an internal spring 120 of the actuator. This loading is then released during at least an initial part of a folding motion of the stabilizer assembly, thereby facilitating folding of the device. The fact that loading on internal spring 120 is induced by lowering of the height- adjustment mechanism ensures that the loading occurs selectively when needed, avoiding maintaining the spring under load for extended periods during use of the device. Although illustrated here as a linear actuator biased by a helical spring, it will be clear to a person having ordinary skill in the art that a wide range of other actuator configurations and types of spring may be used, including but not limited to, helical springs, leaf springs and air compression springs.

The handles 124 of chair 100 are preferably also implemented as folding handles. In the implementation illustrated here, the handles are pivotally connected to the seat element 12 at the sides of the chair, and fold through a rearward pivotal motion. Optionally, the handles are integrated as shown via a crossbar 128 passing beneath the seat in the deployed state, which rests against the central column of the chair in order to firmly support the handles. The shape of the crossbar and the position of the pivotal connections is chosen to allow the bar to pass around the front of the seat so that the handles can fold backwards. The back support surface 16 is here preferably provided by a flexible element (a broad strap or the like) which bends around the folded mechanism of the chair when folded down, as shown in FIGS. 14B, 16C and 19F.

In all other respects, chair 100 is similar to that of the previously described implementations, and subject to the same range of options and variants, and its structure and function will be fully understood by reference to the above description.

It will be appreciated that the above descriptions are intended only to serve as examples, and that many other embodiments are possible within the scope of the present invention as defined in the appended claims.