User-research for ‘Life-Changing’ Mobility Chair Centaur

By Jonathan Smith

Centaur Robotics brought users together to test their new and life-changing mobility chair.

Older shoppers and residents of sheltered housing in Leeds were at the heart of research to shape the design of a revolutionary self-balancing chair. Centaur Robotics, developers of the two-wheeled Centaur, questioned potential users of the vehicle about the effects of failing mobility on mental health and quality of life. 

The interviews revealed the Centaur could have a ‘life-changing impact’ and will help combat the social isolation and loneliness which often results from poor mobility. The research was carried out in partnership with Leeds City Council, Crossgates Shopping Centre and tenants of Carlton Croft and Claremont Grove retirement housing schemes. It was funded by the government’s Connected Spaces Catapult’s Homes for Healthy Ageing programme.

Researchers also asked how the Centaur could be improved and which service models would make it affordable for all. The user has shaped the design of the Centaur ever since the company founders, concerned about family members’ lack of mobility, came up with the concept of the slim, elegant machine.

Good for business

Jo Horsfall runs the Leeds-based Cross Gates & District Good Neighbours’ Scheme. It helps reduce loneliness, supports independence in the over 60s and has a community hub in the shopping centre. She said the Centaur could open up new experiences. “Our members were quite excited about the Centaur. We got some great feedback. It was something they would definitely use. One was a wheelchair user who can only walk short distances. For him the Centaur would be a lifeline.” Jo said making it available to hire at a shopping centre would be a good alternative to buying one. “It’s good for the shops and it promotes independence so people can do their own shopping.”

Scandinavian design

Jo added: “The Centaur could be a life-changing experience. Older people can visit more shops, reach higher places.” Alternatives like mobility scooters are too big for smaller shops or for indoor use in sheltered housing, where they create fire hazards and accidents. Users suggested adding somewhere to keep a shopping bag on the vehicle, although future service models would work around a carry-to-car service for purchases. All those who took part in the study said failing mobility limited their ability to stay in touch with family and friends. Participants described the Centaur as ‘space age’, ‘neat and modern’, with a ‘Scandinavian design’. It was ‘compact’, a ‘very good idea’ and ‘attractive’, though some were unsure about it because they didn’t know how the self-balancing worked.

Monthly subscription?

The majority thought the Centaur’s lifting seat, which raises the rider to eye-level, would help at home where they would be able to get to areas usually out of reach. The potential riders also thought it would help people stay independent for longer. Designer Paul Campbell drew on his father’s experience with a wheelchair to create the Centaur. He modelled it on a dining chair after watching his father struggle in his favourite restaurant, as told in a previous article on This Age Thing which can be read here

Other ways of giving people access to the Centaur inside sheltered housing included business models where a vendor or franchisee provides Centaurs to Leeds City Council which leases them to tenants. Tenants could also opt for a monthly subscription added to their service charge. Short term rentals of the Centaur could also be included in welfare packages delivered by councils.

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Design & Innovation

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