As a reader of this column, you might recall my writing last year that there were some innovative rumblings in the power chair marketplace. What none of us knew at the time was that those rumblings would hit the market in 2015 like a 8.0 magnitude earthquake of innovation. They would shake up the world of power chairs as we know them, featuring technologies that aren’t just captivating, but life-changing.
It Slides, Glides, and Runs off Your Smartphone
Imagine taking the most cutting-edge technologies out there and rolling them into a power chair, drawing from smartphones and NASA. That’s exactly what the recently introduced WHILL Model A power chair accomplishes. As a rear-wheel-drive power chair, the Model A eliminates front casters, replacing them with 9.8-inch omni-directional casters that don’t pivot, but are made up of a “wheel” of rollers that glide both forward and reverse, as well as sideways. The result is front wheels that eliminate swinging casters, allowing the power chair to pivot effortlessly in tight spaces, and they’re powered for all-wheel-drive outdoor performance. It’s the same technology used by NASA and the military for capable, maneuverable exploration vehicles.
Next, the Model A incorporates Bluetooth and smartphone app technology to control every aspect of the power chair. While there’s a traditional — though highly ergonomic — joystick for driving, your smartphone controls the power chair, from driving modes to programming to diagnostics to GPS location. What’s really impressive, however, is that you or an attendant can literally drive the Model A via your smartphone, using the screen as a finger pad. For example, you can transfer into bed, and via your smartphone, remotely park your power chair across the room.
The Model A also features an exceptionally unique seating system (although it must be noted that it’s intended for those who can self-support in a manual wheelchair-type seating, not meant as high-end complex rehab power chair seating). With a low backrest, sleek armrests and a 90-degree footplate, the user is seen before the power chair. What’s more, for table access or transfers, the armrests flip back and the power seat slides forward, offering optimal access.
With a top speed of 5.5 mph, a battery range of 10.6 miles, and all-wheel-drive, the WHILL Model A offers not just cutting-edge technology, but real-world functionality.
Elevate into the World at Eye Level
If you’ve used a power chair with an elevating seat during the last three decades, you know the limitations: they take forever to elevate, then the power chair either locks out driving or slows the speed to an unusable pace. And, did I mention that unsettling feeling of instability, as if sitting on a flag pole?
Quantum Rehab’s new iLevel power chair system allows 10 inches of seat elevation in just 24 seconds (compared to the industry standard of 45 seconds). That in itself is an improvement, but the game-changing technology comes in once you’re elevated, where you can now drive the power chair at walking speed, indoors and out — with a safe, intuitive stability system built in. As the seat elevates, iLevel stabilizes the caster arms, still allowing suspension for climbing thresholds and such, but prevents the power chair from pitching, even on a 7-degree ramp.
For those with very high-end complex rehab needs, iLevel offers functional elevation while maintaining advanced positioning components, from power tilt to recline to an elevating foot platform, allowing all to now access “standing height” mobile elevation. When combined with the ability to drive at a real-world walking speed while fully elevated, accessibility and social interactions dramatically open up — from increased visibility in crowds to ease of grocery shopping to socializing at mixers to sitting at high-top tables to strolling the mall shoulder-to-shoulder with your spouse. If you think of traveling down a crowded college hall, elevated at walking speed versus being at seated wheelchair height, you can clearly recognize the real-world benefits of safe, mobile elevation at eye level.
iLevel is interfaced with Quantum’s new Q6 Edge 2.0 powerbase, which offers a single-stage gearbox for responsiveness, 6-wheel independent suspension, and a standard 6 mph top speed, all wrapped in bold, take-on-the-world body shrouding.
Taking a Stand in Innovation
When it comes to power chair standing technology, Permobil has been the leader for decades. And, the new Permobil F5 Corpus VS demonstrates that heritage — all in a stunning, eye-catching package.
In the past, standing mechanisms have been essentially a seating system atop a powerbase. With the F5, however, Permobil integrated the two, where the power seating and standing mechanisms nestle into the powerbase for an ultra-clean appearance.
While the power standing system has been redesigned for durability, ergonomics, and functionality (the F5 allows you to drive while indoors at reduced speed while standing), other life-enhancing features are offered as well. A new anterior tilt feature allows the seat to lift up and forward, a valuable feature for reaching kitchen environments when cooking, or in accessing closets. The F5 also shifted from the long-used 8-inch single-post seat lift to a new, more stable 3-point, 14-inch seat lift mechanism.
Of course, Permobil didn’t overlook the powerbase, which features a speed-swept aesthetic, new suspension, and rear-housed batteries to add stability and eliminate the need for protruding front anti-tip wheels.
Not Just Reinventing the Wheel
If you look at these three truly impressive products — the WHILL Model A, Quantum iLevel, and Permobil F5 Corpus VS — it’s clear that the mobility industry isn’t merely reinventing the wheel. Rather, the mobility industry is reinventing the power chair.