Much of our work here at Carbon Black is about changing people’s perceptions of wheelchairs and wheelchair users. The ethos behind Carbon Black is to make a wheelchair that is stylish and sexy, a design masterpiece - not a stifling medical device. The use of carbon fibre allows us to design a chair that looks good, as well as being highly functional – appearance is as important as function and comfort.
Carbon fibre is also used in the manufacturing of prosthetic limbs – which have come a long way from the Dark Ages where bulky iron limbs were used, more for the purpose of hiding lost limbs which at the time was considered an embarrassing deformity. The use of modern materials like carbon fibre that are light and strong, means that prosthetic limbs are now something to show off and be proud of – and that is what Carbon Black aims to do with the wheelchair.
‘A prosthetic limb doesn’t represent loss anymore…it is a symbol of power…people once considered disabled can now become architects of their own identities’. Aimee Mullins – Athlete, Actor and Activist.
The above quote from Mullins, the first athlete in the world to race on ‘Cheetah Blade Runner’ style carbon fibre sprinting legs that are now a common sight at sporting events, came from her speech to the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in 2009. Here at Carbon Black, we feel as passionate about redefining people’s perceptions of the wheelchair as Mullins does about prosthetics. New technologies, such as the use of carbon fibre, have contributed to the sophistication of prosthetic limbs and have also contributed to the sophistication of Carbon Black. Prosthetic limbs can be customised and tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences (Mullins herself has at least a dozen pairs), and so can Carbon Black. Our remit when designing Carbon Black was to create the ultimate lightweight wheelchair aimed at the active, independent user to whom style matters as much as practicality. The result? A beautiful monocoque based design that can be built to bespoke measurements and accessorised with a range of unique options.
Johnathan Bradshaw, a Product Design undergraduate at Nottingham University chose to design a range of practical prosthetic legs that also look good as part of his final year project. His reasons for doing so are very similar to why Carbon Black was designed: ‘I wanted to redefine the artificial limb as less of a medical item and more of a consumer item…to create something that people would actually want to and enjoy using.’
Carbon Black is designed to be stylish and unique, and most definitely something to enjoy using rather than a medical device. But looks are only part of the equation. There are other reasons why carbon fibre is the material of choice for both prosthetics and wheelchairs. Energy efficiency is important to both athletes and wheelchair users. The damping property of carbon fibre reduces the energy lost through vibration which is important for athletes using carbon fibre ‘blade-runners’; and the use of carbon fibre means that Carbon Black is the most energy efficient (easy to push) manual wheelchair on the planet. Carbon fibre’s lightweight and high strength properties are also integral to both carbon fibre prosthetics and Carbon Black.
Events such as the Paralympics and the Invictus Games have highlighted the advances of prosthetics and what can be achieved with these advancements – people are fascinated by the look and design of ‘blade-runners’ and their use in sport has inspired many people. We hope that Carbon Black will also inspire people and empower wheelchair users.
To finish, a quote from Stylishly Impaired blog: ‘The marriage of technology and art has the potential to change the ways in which society views disabled bodies.’ Amen to that.