Introduction: Sparklab- Create a Wheelchair for Difficult Terrain and Unexpected Environments.

About: Spark!Lab is a hands -on invention studio in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. Spark!Lab activities communicate that invention is a process, rather than a single “Aha!” moment; provide vi…

Welcome to Spark!Lab digital. This is an online invention space where you get to be the inventor. There are no wrong answers, and you can create an invention using the pieces provided — or create some pieces of your own. Think like an inventor: how does your design solve a problem?

Create a Wheelchair for Difficult Terrain and Unexpected Environments. Using Tinkercad, you can delete, reshape, and duplicate elements - and you can create new parts, too.


  • Free Tinkercad account
  • Inventive creativity
  • "Create a Wheelchair for Difficult Terrain and Unexpected Environments" parts from the Tinkercad website

Step 1: Invention Is a Process

There are just two things to keep in mind as you design your high accessibility wheelchair for difficult terrain and unexpected environments.

1. The invention process is not always linear, but inventors engage in these steps in some form or another:

  • Think it: Have a great idea for an invention
  • Explore it: Investigate inventions and ideas of the past
  • Sketch it: Draw pictures and diagrams to figure out how your invention might work
  • Create it: Build a prototype or model of your idea
  • Try it: Test your invention
  • Tweak it: Keep improving your idea
  • Sell it: Market your invention to people who might buy it

2. We also know everyone is inventive — and we do mean everyone! Today, you become the inventor. You will try new ideas, take risks, and learn how to keep going when things don’t go as planned.

Step 2: Think It

The first step of the invention process is to "think it," meaning to identify a problem you would like to solve and begin to imagine your solution.

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

Where will your wheelchair be used? How will its design help the user navigate challenging terrain or environments? Who will use your wheelchair? Is your wheelchair designed for use in any sporting activities? What types of materials will be used to make your wheelchair? What makes your wheelchair go, motors, muscle power or something else?

Step 3: Explore It

The next step of the invention process is to "explore it. ” Inventors ask: “How have inventors solved this problem in the past?” and then conduct research to learn more about the problem they want to solve or to understand solutions that already may exist. They learn from what others have already tried and make sure that their solutions are new or different.

One of the first wheelchairs, as we know them today, was create In 1959. It was created by an unknown inventor for King Philip II, the King of Spain. At its core a wheelchair is a tool that increases a person's freedom of mobility. Advances in materials science, production technologies, and design tools have opened new possibilities for how and where wheelchairs are used.

Explore some resources that take a look at types of wheelchairs and innovations related to their use and design:

Click here to explore some wheelchair related objects in the Smithsonian's collection.

Click here to hear the story of extreme wheelchair athlete Aaron "Wheelz" Fotheringham.

Click here to hear the story of Marilyn Hamilton the invention of the Quickie Wheelchair.

Click here to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Click here read about the World Health Organization's guidelines on the provision of manual wheelchairs in less resourced setting.

Watch this video to see an inventor's wheelchair, designed for dance and fluid movement.

Step 4: Sketch It

Inventors use sketching as a way to organize their ideas.

Drawing an idea allows inventors to imagine what their invention might look like and how it will work. Try sketching out your invention before building! Take some time to sketch your ideas, images, and thoughts about what you think a high accessibility wheelchair might look like.

You can sketch your ideas with paper and pencil, or you can try using a digital format. Remember! Inventors rarely get it right on the first try. Whatever the method, you may need to erase and re-draw your invention as you continue to think through how you want to solve the problem.

Click here to learn more about inventors' sketches in the Smithsonian Collection.

Step 5: Create It

Now it is time to build a prototype of your invention idea. In this step, inventors get to see their idea turn into something three dimensional. Building a model can also help you learn about any issues there are with their invention design. Your prototype will show the design and unique features of your high accessibility wheelchair.

How can you use these virtual materials to create a high accessibility wheelchair? How will your wheelchair work in areas that have no slopes or ramps? Who will use your invention? What types of activities can someone do using your wheelchair?

"As you create your design be sure to use the "Notes" feature in Tinkercad to describe the parts and features of your invention."

Click here to go to the Tinkercad site where you can create a wheelchair for difficult terrain and environments.

Step 6: Try It

Now that you have created your 3D model, take some time to imagine how people would use your wheelchair.

  • What types of activities could be done using your invention?
  • How will your invention work on rough terrain or stairs?
  • Will your invention be low cost enough to be affordable for all people in any location around the globe?

  • How will the user of your invention make it move (motors, by hand, something else)?
  • What types of materials will be used to make your wheelchair?
  • What are some of the key features of your invention?
  • What types of safety features are part of your invention?
  • Does your invention work in all environments or only some?

Share your 3D model and ideas with others. Ask them for their input about your design.

  • What did they like best about your design?
  • What did they think needed improving?
  • What new ideas did you get by sharing your idea with them?

Step 7: Tweak It

Now that you’ve created your high accessibility wheelchair, thought about how it will be used, and shared your idea with others, it’s time to tweak your invention! Now is the time to ask yourself, "What changes can I make to improve my invention?” You may want to revisit the Explore It step and do some further research before making tweaks to your invention.

Inventors typically don't succeed with an invention on the first try. Inventors make changes to their prototypes to make them work better. Usually, they tweak their idea many times before it is finished. Once tweaks are made, inventors test their inventions again. It can take many tries to get it right.

Go back to your design in Tinkercad and tweak your invention, based on what you learned from the "Try It" step.

Step 8: Sell It

The final step of the invention process is to sell your idea. Selling your invention is not only about putting it up for sale. Selling an idea often happens when you share your idea with others after you have made your final tweaks.

Tell us about your invention on social media:

Who will use your invention?

What makes your invention unique?

How does your invention work?

We want to hear from you!

We want to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram at @si_invention or Facebook @lemelsoncenter and use the hashtag #sparklab on your posts.