Introducing the Smart Drive

Gregory Snyder is an active member of Magee’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) whose members work to enhance the patient experience and increase the level of collaboration between patients, families and staff.  I caught-up with Greg at a recent PFAC meeting and noticed the Smart Drive device on the back of his wheelchair.  Here’s what he had to say about it:

photo 1How did you hear about the Smart Drive device?

I first saw the Smart Drive at the Boston Abilities Expo in September 2013, where I trialed the unit on a demo wheelchair through the Smart Drive manufacturer, Max Mobility.  I had recently left Magee as an inpatient, so I was relatively unfamiliar with what adaptive technologies existed to help save my shoulders in the long run.  I was initially impressed with the speed and responsiveness of the Smart Drive, so I met with the local rep to trial the unit at Magee Riverfront.  Few people in the Magee SCI community with whom I spoke at that time were aware of the Smart Drive, but I got a lot of questions from wheelchair users everywhere about “that wheel behind your wheelchair.”

What does it do?

The Smart Drive is a power-assist device that matches the speed of each push, and goes as fast as 4.5 mph.  There’s a battery that attaches to the bottom of the wheelchair seat, which powers the power-assist wheel that is placed on the axel between the two back wheels.  Each time you push, the wheel keeps revolving at the speed you reach.  It takes a little getting used to, and requires decent manual dexterity, but really helps you get places quickly with minimal effort or wear on your shoulders.  It also allows you to use your arms and hands less when you propel yourself, freeing them up to do other things like use your phone or hold someone special’s hand.

How does the device assist on different terrains?

The Smart Drive has two modes: an indoor mode that is slower and responds to manual breaking, and an outdoor mode that is faster and stops in responses to pressing one of two buttons placed on the frame of your wheelchair.  The indoor mode is great for even surfaces like hard-wood floors, whereas the outdoor mode will handle uneven surfaces, sidewalks, grass, etc.  It works really well going up inclines and curb cuts.  In the outdoor mode, you really only have to push once to get it going; once it starts, it will keep you going or go faster (if you push harder) until you hit the kill-switch buttons on the side of the wheelchair frame.  I’ve even kept speed with someone leisurely biking next to me on the boardwalk at the beach.

What do you like about it and what could improve the device?

My favorite feature is its speed in the Outdoor Mode.  I’ve had people give me some pretty funny looks as I pass them on the sidewalk, thinking, “How is that guy in the wheelchair going faster than I am?” That being said, the Outdoor Mode takes some practice, as you need to use the buttons to stop yourself.  I initially trialed and ordered an older model that only responded to manual breaking, so the new model with the Outdoor Mode was a bit of a surprise.  That being said, it can be even easier to use than the Indoor Mode, as it generally requires less effort.  I can see it being very useful for someone with less arm strength if they are able to use it correctly.

I also like that the unit is removable from the wheelchair frame.  It’s relatively easy for a low-level paraplegic to put the unit on behind the chair and remove it, before getting into his or her vehicle, for instance.  The unit is as light as it could possibly be for how incredibly powerful it is.  Finally, there are adaptations available for attachment of the unit to foldable wheelchairs as well.

photo 5How can someone get one?

The Smart Drive can can be ordered directly through Max Mobility (, which has wonderful customer service and a lot more information on what the Smart Drive has to offer.  I’d recommend trialing the unit through a local rep before ordering, just to make sure it’s right for you.

Gregory Snyder is a fourth year medical student at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA. He was born in Denver, CO and grew up outside of Philadelphia in Media, PA, attending the Episcopal Academy before graduating from Princeton University with degrees in Molecular Biology, Neuroscience and Spanish. Thereafter, Greg lived in Guatemala for one year, where he taught at a private school and worked for a public health NGO/NPO called WINGS, which specializes in reproductive health and family planning. After suffering a spinal cord injury while hiking with his dog in June 2013, Greg performed his rehabilitation at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. He has now returned to medical school to finish his final year and pursue an Internal Medicine residency position. He was recently engaged to Dr. Christina Costantino, whom he cannot wait to marry in November 2015!

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