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How Does An Electric Wheelchair Work?

How Does An Electric Wheelchair Work

For many, an electric wheelchair can open up a world of potential to those living with physical impairments or limited mobility. However, if you have been considering using an electric wheelchair for yourself or someone else, you may be wondering how the technology works behind this mobility aid. 

In this blog post, we’ll explore exactly what powers and propels an electric wheelchair and how does an electric wheelchair work so that you can understand the fundamentals ahead of deciding which is suitable for you.

What is an Electric Wheelchair?

Electric wheelchairs are motorized vehicles designed for individuals with limited mobility. The chairs are typically equipped with four or six wheels and are powered by a motor operated by one or two batteries. Rather than relying on upper body strength to move, the user can control the wheelchair with a convenient joystick mounted on one armrest.

This innovative technology has revolutionized the mobility industry, providing a comfortable and effective way of navigating indoor and outdoor environments. The joystick allows for precise movement in all directions, providing unparalleled maneuverability and ease of use.

Through the use of electric wheelchairs, individuals with disabilities can regain their independence and enjoy a better quality of life. These chairs offer high durability and reliability, ensuring users can rely on them for years.

Electric wheelchairs are specifically designed to cater to the diverse and unique long-term needs of individuals with mobility constraints. In addition, these electric wheelchairs are equipped with complex rehabilitation solutions tailored to address specialized rehabilitation requirements.

These exceptionally personalized electric wheelchairs are particularly relevant in complex rehabilitation, where electric wheelchairs must be meticulously designed and customized to fit the diverse needs and preferences of individuals with mobility limitations. 

These electric wheelchairs offer unparalleled support and comfort, ensuring that individuals with mobility impairments can enjoy a high degree of independence and mobility in their day-to-day lives. Therefore, electric wheelchairs enable individuals with mobility constraints to lead an active and fulfilling life.

How Does an Electric Wheelchair Work?

An electric wheelchair’s primary functioning part is a motor attached to the wheels, which a battery-operated electronic controller regulates. An optional gear set or direct connection to the wheels allows the electric motor to turn the wheels.

The wheels are propelled in the direction the user selects through an analog joystick or touchscreen that transmits the user’s input to an active motor. Changing the wheelchair’s electrical input will change the wheelchair’s top speed.

The electric wheelchair’s motor is powered by electricity stored in a battery. Most wheelchairs include a removable battery pack in the rear that can be plugged into any regular electrical socket to be recharged.

One key distinction to be aware of is the fundamental difference between electric wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs. While the latter requires the user to push the wheels with their own hands or feet physically, electric wheelchairs are powered by an electric motor.

Additionally, it is essential to note that an electric wheelchair function is not the same as an electric wheelchair scooter, as the latter is designed primarily for use on the road and is propelled by a motor. Keeping these differences in mind is essential when considering the mobility needs of individuals with different physical abilities.

Electric wheelchairs offer a multitude of electric wheelchair features that enhance comfort, safety, and convenience. These include adjustable seat height, allowing users to achieve a customized fit that accommodates their physical needs and avoids discomfort. A reclining backrest provides additional relaxation, while adjustable footrests can make all the difference in achieving a snug, supportive seating position.

For added safety in low-light conditions, some electric wheelchairs are equipped with built-in lights and turn signals, helping to ensure that the user can safely navigate their surroundings. All in all, these features combine to create an optimal user experience, providing greater comfort and increased peace of mind.

Electric Wheel Chairs Types

Following are some main types of electric wheelchairs.

Rear-Wheel Drive

Two wheels in the back provide propulsion, while the other pair spin freely, providing caster-like stability in a rear-wheel drive wheelchair. Wheelchairs with a rear-wheel-drive system are the closest in design to conventional wheelchairs that are manually operated and can be used indoors as well as outdoors.

Mid-Wheel Drive or Center-Wheel Drive

Wheelchairs with mid-wheel or center-wheel drive feature six wheels, two of which are the driving wheels. The other four wheels provide support and can be equipped with suspension to maintain a consistent distance from the ground. Regarding mobility and turning radius, a six-wheeled motion system is your best fit for inside usage and confined locations.

Front-Wheel Drive

There are two rolling wheels at the rear of a front-wheel drive wheelchair, and the powered wheels are upfront. These types are the most versatile and useful for indoor and outdoor use on rigid surfaces. One of the significant advantages of the FWD electric wheelchair is its ability to turn around on a very tight radius, which is nearly impossible for traditional wheelchairs.

This feature makes it highly suitable for confined spaces such as elevators, narrow hallways, and bathrooms. Furthermore, the front-wheel drive configuration allows the wheelchair to easily climb over small obstacles and driveways.

All-Wheel Drive

Wheelchairs having all-wheel steering are called “all-wheel drive.” Outdoors are where these models shine on rough or rocky ground. Its unique features and capabilities make it a top choice for individuals who require high mobility and independence in their daily lives.

Mechanics Of Electric Wheelchairs

An electric wheelchair’s intricate design comprises several vital components that merge to create a seamless and efficient system. The machine’s primary components consist of a battery, motors, joystick, and sensors, which flawlessly combine to power the wheelchair, commanding its direction and pace while facilitating movement in all directions.

The interplay between these constituents is intricate, resulting in an electrifying experience for the user as they move forward, backward, and sideways quickly.


The wheelchair’s wheels are driven by mechanical energy produced by the wheelchair’s motors. Electric wheelchairs may be powered by either direct (DC) motors or alternating (AC) motors.

Compared to AC motors, DC motors are easier to build and run, but they also produce more noise. In contrast to DC motors, AC motors make greater noise at higher speeds. Power sources for electric wheelchairs are often concealed inside the chair’s back wheels. Separate motors drive the wheels of a power wheelchair. Due to their rugged construction, they require greater electrical capacity than regular wheelchairs.

The wheelchair’s motors are crucial because they offer the torque necessary to propel the chair. You may change directions with an electric wheelchair simply by turning the wheels. Switching the wheels’ rotational orientation is as simple as rewiring the motors to have them spin in the other way.


There are sensors built into the wheelchair that allows for mobility under specific circumstances. For example, the chair can identify an obstruction in its route and stop moving. In addition, light and rain sensors are included on specific models of electric wheelchairs, enhancing their practical surroundings.

Some power chairs can even tell how much weight or pressure is being put on them. Their speed may be adjusted automatically according to the user’s body weight. Heavy users may now experience the same convenience and swiftness as their lighter counterparts.


The electric wheelchair’s battery is its primary source of energy. Recharge requires an external power source, including an electrical outlet or a vehicle charger. The building blocks of batteries are the electrochemical cells.

These cells may generate DC and conserve energy for later use. Many modern electronic gadgets rely on batteries, laptops, and cell phones.

Since they can be recharged and used again and over, they make for a good power source. A wide variety of battery types may power electric wheelchairs. The majority of electric wheelchairs utilize lead-acid batteries. This battery is designed for continuous use and is built to last.

Lithium-ion Batteries

In addition to being more durable, lithium-ion batteries last far longer. Ni-Cd batteries are another option for electric wheelchairs. In addition, this battery doesn’t use toxic chemicals, making it a better choice than lead-acid ones for the planet.

Lead-acid Batteries

It is essential to properly get rid of lead-acid batteries since they include toxic compounds. In addition to standard NiMH batteries, lithium-ion batteries are widely employed in electric wheelchairs. This is because they can store a lot of power in a small package. Furthermore, because of their vast energy storage capacity, they are often utilized in long-distance wheelchairs.

Control Panel

In order to direct a power wheelchair, users must utilize the chair’s control panel, which is a movable, configurable part of the chair. For most people, this means a joystick or touchpad styled like video game consoles mounted on the opposite armrest to their dominant hand. Controls that are actuated by the user’s speech, breathing, or movement of the tongue are available for those who cannot use both hands to maneuver the power chair.


The joystick serves as the wheelchair’s primary mode of operation. It enables the user to steer the wheelchair in whatever direction, allowing forward, reverse, and lateral movement. Users guide the chair with a joystick, a tiny lever that may be manipulated in any direction. Due to their intuitive design, many joysticks are preferable to traditional steering wheels.

Seating System

The electric wheelchair’s seating arrangement aids the user’s posture and ensures security. An adjustable or fixed captain’s seat provides a comfortable perch for those using power wheelchairs.

Depending on the model, you can change the seat’s height, rotate the headrest, recline the whole seat without altering your posture, and raise your legs. In addition, most designs include a safety belt that can be fastened during a collision or jolt, keeping the rider from being thrown from the vehicle.

Electric Wheelchair Benefits

An excellent approach to keep your freedom of movement and independence is with an electric wheelchair. You can choose one that works for you since they are available in all shapes and sizes. In addition, several positive outcomes are associated with utilizing an electric wheelchair.

Facilitate a relaxing journey

Seat and backrest adjustments are included on many models to make sure you have a good fit and can relax as you drive. Due to how quietly the motors operate, they are also great for anyone reluctant to wake up their neighbors.

Battery-Powered for 8-10 hours

They are battery-operated; typically good for 8-10 hours before recharging. Because of this, they are ideal for people who need to travel long distances. You only need an electrical outlet to replenish the batteries, making them quite convenient.

Portable and Lightweight

They’re great for wheelchair users who need to take their chairs with them, whether they use public transit or transfer themselves in a vehicle.

Easy to move, even in confined situations

Unlike standard wheelchairs, their turning radius is substantially smaller, making them ideal for confined locations like corridors. This makes them perfect for navigating congested interior environments or public spaces.

How Long Can You Travel on a Single Charge with an Electric Wheelchair?

How far a wheelchair can go depends on battery capacity, topography, and user weight. An ordinary electric wheelchair, powered by a 12-volt, 40-amp-hour battery, may, based on the surface and the user’s weight, travel between 8 and 10 kilometers on one full charge.

On the other hand, a 24-volt, 80-amp-hour battery allows the same wheelchair to go between 15 and 20 miles on only one recharge. More distance may be obtained with a wheelchair, provided that a lightweight user uses it on level ground.

In addition, several sized electric wheelchairs exist, with some intended for indoor usage. Less distance may be covered with an indoor powered wheelchair than one used outside.

How Do Electric Wheelchairs Turn?

Joysticks and motor controls are often used with electric wheelchairs to enable users to turn. You may command the chair’s movement and set its pace utilizing the joystick. Joysticks for electric wheelchairs may be installed on the armrest or close to the chair’s primary framework.

The machine’s electrical controls are what really cause the wheels to spin. Electric motors, controlled by signals from the joystick, drive each wheel. You’ll often press the joystick upwards or downwards to make a left turn based on the vehicle’s make and type. The wheels will rotate in the specified direction once the motors are activated.

There is a function called “active turning” on several electric wheelchairs. The chair will spin to the side immediately when it reaches a particular velocity. This aids the user in maintaining control as they navigate narrow passages and steep twists.

It is possible to set the angle and direction of a wheelchair’s turns using an electric motor. Some advanced versions can even sense when they’re approaching an obstruction and swerve to avoid it. In the end, electric wheelchairs facilitate movement for people with disabilities. Turning and moving around is simple with the correct joystick and motor controls.

Take Away

The proper electric wheelchair must be found for the user based on their height, weight, unique requirements, and the planned usage of the wheelchair. For example, a powerful electric wheelchair may be necessary for a hefty person or someone with limited mobility. However, there are situations in which a manual wheelchair or mobility scooter may prove more appropriate. In any event, a physical therapist and a reputable vendor of mobility aids may be invaluable resources for determining which gadget best meets your needs.