Carbon fiber has been long used in racing bicycles, for example, for its stiff, light weight and ability to dampen vibrations from the road. But this is one of the first times that its been used in racing wheelchairs, which are usually fabricated using aluminum frame material.
"We want a chair that can accelerate, and as they are pushing we want it to be efficient," said Brad Cracchiola, associate designer at BMW North America Group Designworks, based in Los Angeles. "We want the energy to be translated as efficiently possible up to speed so they are getting the most out of their push."
Cracchiola said BMW worked with each racer to design a special pair of gloves for pushing the wheel, gloves that are actually more like molded pistol grips made from a putty-like material. BMW designers used a 3-D printer to get a more exacting fit, and built the wheelchair chassis using a scanning technique and automobile manufacturing techniques "Existing chairs have a rectangular metal bucket, so the racers shim their body in with foam blocks and straps, Cracchiola said. "With our chair, we took inspiration from auto racing doing a custom body mold in their cockpit. Once they get in it, they havea perfect fit. They can't flip. We also customized the steering around their ergonomics."
BMW unveiled the new chairs for George and five other wheelchair athletes headed to Rio for the 2016 Paralympic games. He said he hopes it will add to his taly of five Paralympic medals; two gold.
"Instead of borrowing research and development from another sport, BMW has done their own for the sport of wheelchair racing," George said. "Some of the design changes, material choices will help elevate our performances."
Even thought BMW is a German-owned firm, the partnership is between BMW's North America division and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The chairs or technology won't be shared with other nations.