USF Research News

USF’s Rolling Dance Chair technology receives AUTM’s “Put a Face On It” Award

March 25, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. – Merry Lynn Morris’ rolling dance chair technology, developed at the University of South Florida was one of only six technologies selected to receive the AUTM “Put a Face On It” Award.

USF received a $3,000 award for their video that “puts a face on” technology transfer. View USF’s “Put a Face On It” video.

The award is offered by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) as a way to enhance awareness of the benefits of technology transfer. AUTM offered seed funding for unique videos featuring people who have benefited from university-developed innovations. According to AUTM, the “Put A Face On It” project aims to make a real-world connection between AUTM members' work and its ability to transform people’s lives.

The Rolling Dance Chair project was initiated in 2005 by Morris, a faculty member in the College of The Arts at USF. The chair is a smart-phone controlled, omnidirectional powered wheelchair that does not require arms or hands to operate. By wearing or holding the wireless device, the user can move in a fluid motion, offering more freedom to dancers with disabilities and supporting artistic freedom.

Morris designed and developed several assistive mobility devices for application in both dance and daily living contexts. Through her work with multiple collaborators, including the USF College of Engineering, Visual Realm, Inc., and, currently, Vertec, Inc., several prototype iterations have come to fruition and have received patents for their innovative nature. The current chair is patent pending.

The chair project was inspired from the personal caregiving experiences of Morris and her mother over a 21-year period after Morris’s father, a veteran, was injured in a severe car accident which left him with a severe brain injury and complicated paralysis issues. Morris’s work with a mixed ability dance company that combined dancers with and without disabilities also helped to inspire the chair design, which expands movement potential and interaction.

The chair unites concepts from dance and engineering into a wheelchair that gives disabled dancers the widest possible range of motion in any direction or in loops. This invention supports interaction with able-bodied dancers, increasing participatory opportunities and choreographic options in dance for differently-abled individuals.

“This product can be used as a tool to help advance how people think about disabled people in general, and the stigma and perceptions associated with wheelchairs,” said Morris. “By changing the appearance and action/motion of the wheelchair, it provides new ways to view or think about disability.”

The rolling dance chair fills a niche market but has other larger applications as well. The device has potential as a rehabilitation tool and to assist returning veterans and those with unique disabilities.