Think a wheelchair can only help a disabled person get down the street? Think again. Engineers, artist and wheelchair users are developing new conveyances that let their riders do everything from extreme sports to ballet. Companies like Ohio-based Top End specialize in wheelchairs for unconventional athletes: low, sleek models for racing, heavy-duty ones that turn on a dime for basketball and quad rugby, and a 27-gear hand-powered bicycle. Researchers at the University of South Florida, meanwhile, are working on a range of wheelchairs designed to let users do more of the things fully mobile folks take for granted. A "tank chair" can cruise through off-road terrain; another can be raised and lowered to allow its occupant to make straight-ahead eye contact and to get things down from high places. Most dazzling is a hands-free chair that responds to subtle movements its user makes, gliding forward and back and round and round to enable a graceful, wheeled dance. WIRED Science's Ziya Tong meets the makers and users of these fast-forwarding vehicles and watches them put through their paces, from the design lab to the basketball court and the dance floor.moreless
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