Team USA track and field racers will head to the Rio Paralympic Games this summer with a secret weapon: BMW's redesigned racing wheelchair.

Just two years ago, BMW's designers and engineers knew nothing about wheelchairs. Even so, they were up for the challenge. Technology has advanced racing wheelchair design over the last several years, but BMW thought they could do better. It turns out having no preconceived notions regarding how a racing wheelchair should be designed is one of their greatest assets.

BMW's internal design group, DesignWorks, already has a gold-medal design in their pocket. They redesigned the two-man bobsled for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. It contributed to Team USA medaling for the first time in 62 years.

For the racing wheelchair project, DesignWorks took inspiration from auto racing and bike racing to rethink the chair's design principles. The result? A sleek, a sleek, aerodynamic and ergonomic design that'll certainly give U.S. Paralympic athletes extra speed in Rio this summer.

By designing chairs that can be as customized as possible to an athlete's body, using new materials, and stripping away unnecessary design elements, BMW is setting up United States track and field athletes for success at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Here are a few components that make these redesigned chairs better.

3D printing

The racing wheelchairs aren't 3D printed, but BMW's Designworks team relied heavily on 3D technology to design and prototype the chairs. To start, they took 3D images of both athletes' bodies and their chairs. The design team then used all this information to craft completely custom chairs, essentially making the equipment an extension of the athlete's body.

The DesignWorks team is 3D printing gloves for the athletes. Right now, racers handcraft their own gloves using putty. DesignWorks took 3D scans of athletes' gloves, and can now 3D print replacement gloves on demand. The 3D printed gloves are not only completely custom to an athlete's hands and preference for fit, but also can be printed if a glove gets misplaced or damaged.

Carbon fiber construction

Most chairs are made out of aluminum, which is already extremely lightweight. But it's got nothing on carbon fiber, which can be molded to fit an athlete's body for a like-a-glove fit.


Though carbon fiber construction won't make the chairs much lighter, the chairs will demand less energy from athletes during competition. Welded aluminum chairs are more flexible bend and flex over time. That means general wear and tear requires athletes to expend more energy. Carbon fiber is less flexible material. Energy is translated more efficiently throughout the chair's design, giving U.S. Paralympic athletes an edge during competition.