One of the cooler things that we’ve spotted while here in Vegas was Michael Kaplan and his Segway iBOT. I’ve seen plenty of “regular” Segways, but until yesterday had never seen the wheelchair version – other than in blog posts.
After talking to Michael for just a bit, I was impressed by how positively the Segway iBOT has affected his life. How so? On top of being able to climb stairs with ease, he can also raise the seat to the height he was before – 5’8″ and look people in the eye…something I regularly take for granted from my height of 5’10”.
After checking out its Wikipedia entry, I soon learned that there were many more reasons to find Dean Kaman’s Segway iBOT impressive…
The iBOT has a number of features distinguishing it from most powered wheelchairs:
- By rotating its two sets of powered wheels about each other, the iBOT can “walk” up and down stairs. (Picture a cog railway or a rack and pinion with the two wheels as the “teeth” of the gear. The wheels can roll slightly at each step to compensate for a wide range of stair dimensions). When stair-climbing without assistance the user requires a sturdy handrail and a strong grip. With an assistant neither a handrail nor a strong grip are required.
- The iBOT is capable of tethered remote control operation, useful for loading the wheelchair up ramps into vehicles, or “parking” out of the way when not occupied.
- A special software package called iBALANCE receives data via various sensors and gyroscopes, allowing the iBOT to maintain balance during certain maneuvers. For example during curb climbing the seat remains level while parts of the chassis tilt to climb the curb.
- It allows the user to rise from a sitting level to approximately 6 ft. tall, measured from the ground to the top of the head, and depending on the size of the occupant (see illustration above). It does this by raising one pair of wheels above the other to elevate the chassis, while a separate actuator raises the seat slightly more than usual. In this configuration the device is on two wheels, and the ‘iBALANCE’ software and gyroscope signals control the iBOT to maintain equilibrium, balancing much like the Segway scooter (which was a spin-off from the iBOT development). The user may also travel in this “standing” configuration.
- It can climb and descend curbs ranging from 0.1 in. to 5.0 inches, according to the manufacturer’s specifications. The limits are determined by the rider’s technique and risk tolerance.
- It is capable of traveling through many types of terrain, including sand, gravel, and water up to 3″ deep.
According to Wiki, Johnson & Johnson will discontinue sales and marketing of the iBOT this month.
My question is why?
The answer may have to do with its price tag (about $26K), and the fact that insurance will not usually cover the expense. In the words of Shannon, a blogger who regularly writes about her iBOT experience: “They say the iBOT is a “luxury”.”
I’m not sure how a person who can stand, walk, climb stairs, and look others in the eye could deem the ability to do so a luxury.
As Michael says about his Segway iBot in his blog:
I swear I’d like to find the original doctor who signed the initial NOT MEDICALLY NECESSARY rejection letter — flying to him if that is what it takes — wheel up to him in my IBOT in balance mode, and tell him that human dignity may not be medically necessary.
After which I’ll break my safety rules and “accidentally” run over his foot. 🙂