Japanese startup founded by former engineers, auto mechanics, intends to turn the wheelchair in accessory for the tech savvy. Their company,
, developing a "personal mobility device", which, according to them, it is easier and more convenient to use, than conventional wheelchairs with the motor.
, «Model A", equipped with an advanced drive system that allows it to make sharp turns and driving on uneven terrain . It also has a minimalistic design, as if made for the sci-fi movie.
The goal - to create a stylish transport for people with disabilities, but not for the carriage of Persons with Disabilities - Satoshi says Sugi from Whill.
The company started selling «Models A» in Japan and the United States (initially only in California for $ 9500). She puts on what may seem strange: that the global market will wheelchairs grow rapidly and people want to have more powerful and visually more attractive device. Some demographic trends confirm this: the number of people aged 65 and older is expected to triple by 2050, reaching 1, 5 billion., Then there is one for every six people on the planet. And the aging population is likely to increase the number of people with disabilities, which is today, according to the World Health Organization, is 15 percent.
CEO and co-founder, Satoshi Sugi, who retired from Nissan, to open the Whill , says that the idea came to a startup his head when he met a disabled who refused to go to the grocery store in his wheelchair because of the way people looked at him. Although such people are often in good physical shape, traditional stroller may create the impression that his passenger - a weak and helpless, he said.
Given this, Sugi and his colleagues set out to completely redo the stroller with the motor. One of the key innovations «Models A» - its two front wheels, wheels are wrapped in two dozen small rubber tires, rotating independently. Developed by a retired engineer from Toyota, which is registered in the state startup, the omni-directional wheels allow the chair to move in any direction more easily and with a small turning radius.
«model A» also has all-wheel drive system and motor controller, which allows to drive on almost any surface. Lead-acid battery gives you the opportunity to drive a wheelchair for almost 20 kilometers on a single charge. To control you can use the joystick on the armrest or application on iPhone.
The fact that Whill was founded in Japan (near Tokyo), is not a coincidence, since in this country more quarter of the population - over 65 years (the highest rate in the world). But Whill also has an office in Silicon Valley - the market of an aging generation of gadget lovers. Initially, the device is oriented with disabilities, but the company, which has raised $ 11 million. From the Japanese and American investors, hopes to eventually expand sales and those who have difficulty walking.
Of course, the pressing question for Whill: whether the goods sold?
History is not on the side of the company. And "Toyota" and "Honda" released futuristic prototypes for personal mobility, but they still have not paid off. In 1999, the famous inventor Dean Kamen introduced stroller called iBot. It cost $ 25 000, which was quite expensive, but this device can climb curbs, allowing users to adjust the seat so as to be at the eye level of a standing person, and even up and down the stairs. Administration of the US Food and Drug approved it as a medical device and insurers to cover part of the cost. However, the high cost has become one of the reasons why the production was discontinued in 2009.
A member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Rory A. Cooper, professor of rehabilitation science and technology at the University of Pittsburgh, said device from Whill looks like a good product, but it does not consider the technology innovation. He knows something: Cooper, who used a wheelchair for 30 years, is an internationally renowned expert on mobility and director of the Center of Excellence in the industry wheelchairs and rehabilitation equipment (part of the US Department of Veterans Affairs).
Omnidirectional wheels have been around for 30 years, and four-wheel drive - for at least 15 years - he says.
If it is Cooper adds that if insurers are at least partially cover the cost of carriage, Whill might like older members who want to stay active longer and more supportive of the technology than previous generations. After all, today's 65-year-olds were pioneers in the use of things such as a personal computer, PDA and mobile phone, he said.