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Innovation on Display

See Human Engineering in Action at the NIHF Museum

A brand-new exhibit at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® Museum invites visitors to celebrate the power of innovation to improve mobility, function and quality of life.

“Human Engineering” honors the work of 2023 National Inventors Hall of Fame Inductee Rory Cooper, whose advances in wheelchair technology have empowered people around the world. Read on to learn how this new exhibit is designed to inspire the inventor in us all.


Prototyping an Equitable Today

When you visit our museum, you can tour many one-of-a-kind, interactive exhibits honoring more than 600 Hall of Fame Inductees. With the recent unveiling of “Human Engineering,” we’re proud to give you the opportunity to explore Cooper’s prototypes and patented inventions.

An innovative biomedical engineer, Cooper is responsible for many advances in wheelchair technology. Improving both manual and electric wheelchairs, his work has promoted the health, mobility and social inclusion of people with disabilities and older adults.

In 1980, Cooper was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany when a bicycle accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Later, as a student at California Polytechnic State University, he soon encountered significant challenges in maneuvering his 80-pound chrome and steel wheelchair across the campus. So, he went into his family’s automotive and repair shop to design his own ultralight wheelchair.

Inspired and informed by the process of building a better wheelchair for himself, Cooper focused on researching adaptive technologies. Uncovering a strong correlation between wheelchair propulsion and injury, he became determined to reduce the repetitive stress injuries plaguing many users of manual wheelchairs. In 1994, he founded and became director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Pittsburgh.

Now, you can see and feel the difference in wheelchair technology advancement for yourself with our hands-on exhibit featuring a patented wheelchair pushrim invented by Cooper, as well as three generations of wheelchair joystick prototypes and other artifacts illustrating his process of invention and commitment to promoting equity.


Innovating a Better Tomorrow

The Ergonomic Dual Surface Wheelchair Pushrim, marketed as the Natural-Fit Handrim and the Surge Handrim, directly evolved from Cooper’s research into existing wheelchair technology and users’ experiences.

Compared to conventional handrims, this new product featured a larger outer surface area for users to push with their palm, as well as an inner contoured thumb slot. The ergonomic design and coated surfaces promoted lighter gripping with better propulsion and braking. With this handrim, users experienced less hand, wrist and shoulder pain and injuries.

In addition to this revolutionary handrim, Cooper and his colleagues at HERL also created the Variable Compliance Joystick With Compensation Algorithms, which provides safe, powered independent mobility for people with severe and complex disabilities, as well as older adults. The digital joystick, whose prototypes also can be seen at our new exhibit, controls the speed and direction of an electric-powered wheelchair through pressure sensing. To reduce the risk of crashes and other mishaps, it also can be calibrated to individual hand and arm function, while software motion algorithms compensate for any hand tremors.

Under Cooper’s leadership, HERL remains at the forefront of human engineering. Producing assistive technologies designed with both empathy and expertise, HERL promotes greater equity and enhances the lives of individuals worldwide.

“It takes teamwork, it takes time and it takes effort,” Cooper said. “But the reward is improving people’s lives.”

Don’t miss your chance to see our new “Human Engineering” exhibit. Plan your visit to the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum today to explore this and many more interactive, kid-friendly exhibits that are sure to spark the innovative spirit in everyone. The admission is free and the inspiration is unlimited.


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To learn more about the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum and our many world-changing Inductees, visit our blog.

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