Pitt | Swanson Engineering
Shave and a Haircut on Two Wheels
Pitt students and faculty develop a device to help make a trip to the barbershop more accessible to wheelchair users
The Tranquilift team tests the device with an able-bodied user (Austin Minard).

PITTSBURGH (Dec. 2, 2020) … When the COVID-19 quarantines began, one luxury people grew to miss was being pampered in a salon or barbershop. For many wheelchair users, however, salon hair care is often a challenge. The process can require an individual to be lifted out of their wheelchair into a salon chair, but this transfer can easily result in injury.

A barber from Dubois, PA approached a team of engineers and rehabilitation experts from the University of Pittsburgh to develop a device that would help individuals with physical disabilities have a more tailored, comfortable, and safe experience at the salon.

“If you are a wheelchair user, there is currently no portable device to facilitate the elevation or  tilting required to visit places like a barbershop or recreational facility,” said Anand Mhatre, assistant professor at Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “We want to make these activities more accessible by creating a device that provides the functionality necessary to reduce and eliminate potential strain or injuries from a chair transfer.” 

Accessibility is often an overlooked issue – from web design to building design, people with disabilities often experience a myriad of daily challenges that able-bodied individuals take for granted. This device, dubbed TranquiLift, wants to provide a portable solution for activities that require elevation, and Pitt faculty and students leveraged common tools to make it work.

“TranquiLift operates with a scissor lift and a secondary hydraulic platform to allow for a tilt. The user rolls onto a platform and is raised one or two feet using a manual hydraulic jack, much like what you would see in a car shop,” explained Cody Ruck, a bioengineering graduate student studying medical product engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. “The tilt function allows hairdressers to wash and style from different angles. There are safety constraints that lock the chair into place, and there are wheels on the base for portability.”

The first Tranquilift prototype is in development with the hope of being deployed at Baka’s Barbershop in the summer. From there, the team will evaluate its performance and make the necessary design revisions. By the end of the year, they hope to have a fully deployed device that can potentially be commercialized.

The team includes bioengineering students Austin Minard, Cody Ruck, Thaarakh Suresh, and Shreya Telang under the guidance of Anand Mhatre and Kilichan Gurleyik, assistant professor of bioengineering at Pitt.

“TranquiLift is the first product of its kind that will give clients the kind of therapeutic, self-care experience that that we have all come to appreciate at a barbershop or salon,” said Mhatre. “We’re starting in the barbershop and hope to extend the device to other settings.”

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12/2/2020

Contact: Leah Russell