LONG VALLEY, NJ—By his own admission, Dylan Krapf has never “stayed within the lines.”
The 2001 West Morris Central graduate and Washington Township native has spent the last five years in need of—and looking for—something to keep the adventure in his life.
That search began almost immediately after Krapf suffered a life-changing injury that paralyzed him from the waist down when he fell nearly 30 feet out of a tree. Now wheelchair-bound in his mid-20s, the adventure sports-loving Krapf was faced with a challenge he hit head on.
The tinkerer and quality assurance analyst looked at the current market for off-road wheelchairs and only found high-priced vehicles in the area of $20,000.
“I kept looking around and found videos of people converting Segways into wheelchairs,” Krapf says. And that’s when the light bulb went off.
Segway, the company that was founded in 1999 by Dean Kamen, produces zero emission personal transporters that use dynamic stabilization technology, according to its website. The first Segway personal transporters went on sale in November 2002.
Krapf said the more he explored the more he felt confident in transforming the machine into a less expensive all terrain vehicle for wheelchair-bound people.
Now living above a metal shop in Philadelphia, Krapf told his downstairs neighbors what his plans were and showed them potential designs. Without hesitation, the shop workers were on board and ready to lend a hand.
Krapf purchased a new Segway in March 2013 and arrived to his residence on a Friday. Before the weekend was out, a prototype was in the works.
“The guys were really excited,” he said about the metal shop employees. “We knew a lot would be trial and error at the start. We duct taped pillows to an aluminum seat and there were some crashes.”
Now the crew had a working prototype, but it was only “remotely” safe, Krapf said.
That trial and error phase led to a broken leg on one of his test runs. The injury pushed back Krapf’s scheduled departure date for a cross-country road trip; a journey that was the impetus for building the all terrain wheelchair last spring.
“Making enhancements were harder than anticipated,” Krapf said. He brought all his tools with him on the road trip to work on the chair as he toured the country.
“It sort of became a redneck’s version of an off-road wheelchair,” he said, laughing.
Krapf returned to Philadelphia in September with new designs for his metal shop friends and is spending every ounce of his free time working on the machine.
The chair has undergone several iterations over the past few months as the focus becomes that of safety.
“I still don’t really feel safe having anyone else use it just yet,” Krapf said. “We’re trying to make it safer. For me, though, it’s worth it. The fun outweighs everything.”
Krapf is putting in the time to evolve the product and is currently enrolled in a welding course so he can make major changes to the chair’s design himself. Bringing the product to retail isn’t his utmost concern, either.
“I’m looking into starting a non-profit for the chair. It would still be available to the public, but I want to focus on having this built for disabled veterans,” he said.
There are a few other issues for the chair in its current state, as it uses off-road vehicles and measures 34 inches wide; well above the average wheelchair and still too large for some handicapped accesses.
That’s not stopping Krapf, though, and it seems nothing really will.
“The more I use it, the more I like it,” he said.
If Krapf didn’t stay inside the lines before, he certainly won’t now with his new invention.