In a 2016 video, a man seated on a cool-looking modified Segway called an Ogo wowed viewers with a slick demo of the device’s hands-free driving capabilities. By simply leaning in the direction he wanted to go, the rider effortlessly navigated long stretches of beach, wilderness trails and urban environments, all at high speeds. The video quickly went viral, and created a lot of buzz among wheelers. Two years later, the Ogo is finally coming to market.
Ogo is the brainchild of New Zealand design engineer Kevin Halsall. The idea grew out of his friendship with Marcus Thompson, the T12 para riding the Ogo in the viral video. Sharing a mutual passion for archery, the friends participate at a club that has shooting stations on bush trails, wooded areas and open grassland, making it tough to navigate with a manual chair. Halsall decided to design a device that would enable Thompson to easily traverse the area.
Halsall started the quest with a Segway platform, which sells for $6,000, instead of a less expensive platform. “It is the only one that has redundant sensors in areas critical for safety,” says Halsall. “And this makes it the most reliable platform on the market.”
Although seated Segways have been around for over 10 years, Halsall felt he could come up with a superior design compared to the ones currently on the market. Thompson, who has an engineering background, worked as the test pilot.
Their main focus was to improve the way seated riders control the device, starting with the handlebar. “We felt the center-mounted control bar was invasive for the rider. And we felt the bolt-on seating system and fixed backrest found on many seated Segways prevented leaning back far enough to enable fast braking, which is dangerous,” says Halsall.
This led him to invent Ogo’s key feature — a pivoting seat that controls the Segway via custom electronics called the Dynamic Seat Control. He even created a functional and cool-looking shape to incorporate it.
Three years of development went into honing a solid prototype. In 2015 they posted an introductory YouTube video that quickly gained over 1.5 million views. They continued with refinements, and in 2016 posted the Indiegogo crowdfunding video featuring Thompson. The crowdfunding goal fell short, but they were able to complete the project with sweat equity, sheer will, and support from New Zealand and international communities. “We developed a product with elegance, performance, and just a bit of cool,” says Thompson.
Cool, With a Learning Curve
That cool factor has lured in many users, including Gretchen Ryan, an L1 para. “I saw the Ogo video and it looked awesome,” says Ryan, 42. “What really grabbed me was watching the rider travel across the beach hands-free. It looked so agile and fluid, going where you want by simply leaning … it was beautiful.” She was so stoked by the video that she placed an order, and became an Ogo agent.
Ryan got to demo the Ogo for two days at various places, starting in a grassy backyard. “It’s challenging, there is a learning curve to keeping yourself centered. If you lean forward, back or to one side the Ogo is going that way — unless you lower the feet [landing gear],” says Ryan. “I felt like a toddler learning to walk. At first it was turning and twisting under me. I had to re-learn to use all of my core muscles to stay centered without using the handles.”
After a while she dialed in, and that evening drove it in a Fry’s Electronics store. “I was cruising up and down the aisles and one of the things I noticed is the kids that saw me just lit up and said, ‘Wow! I want one of those!’ I can see how this will be cool for everything from pushing a grocery cart to holding a child in my lap. Plus, it is going to help me protect my shoulders.”
While it might help save users’ shoulders, the people behind Ogo emphasize that the Ogo is a personal mobility device, not a medical device. Don’t expect your insurance to cover it and don’t assume you can’t hurt yourself. “An Ogo is like a motorcycle or quadrunner — it’s fast and powerful,” says Thompson. The Ogo website suggests wearing a safety helmet and other protection deemed appropriate when using it, and allowing at least an hour of learning in an open space before driving it in public areas.
“Learning to operate an Ogo is like learning a Segway or riding a bicycle. There is a learning curve that takes anywhere from five minutes to an hour to get comfortable,” says Stuart Ayres, Ogo’s business director.
How It All Works Together
At 143 pounds, 25.2 inches wide (32.7 inches with off-road tires) and 24 inches high with the backrest down, the Ogo can be transported in vehicles as small as a hatchback car by pushing or driving it (without a rider) up a set of generic collapsible tunnel ramps. With two lithium ion batteries, travel range on a full charge is up to 24.8 miles. It can climb impressive inclines of 20-25 degrees and descend inclines of 30 degrees. It comes with a gel cushion, but users can switch to their wheelchair cushions for added protection.
The Ogo relies on four self-leveling feet to provide the stability wheelchair users need to transfer safely.
A push of a remote-control button on a key FOB puts the Ogo into balance/drive mode and raises the feet, which are deployed in the “off” and “stand-by” modes. In balance/drive mode, the Ogo stays stationary with a straight-up “neutral” sitting position, and moves in the direction you lean — forward to go and speed up, side to side for steering and leaning back to slow, stop, or back-up depending on angle and length of backward input. A direct lean to the side will produce a turn-in-place.
The Ogo has grab handles located on top of each fender to enable people with limited or no trunk support to control their body-lean-input with their arms. The grab handles also enable quick aggressive movements for advanced riding. Riders have the option to switch to joystick control — it can be mounted on either side — which controls steering in tight areas or for people that have difficulty controlling leaning. Switching from lean steer to joystick control is done by flipping a lever on the rear fender. It has two performance modes, “turtle,” for learning, provides forgiving input response and a max speed of 6 mph, and regular mode with a top speed of 12 mph.
“When you are moving, Ogo compensates your seating — keeps you centered without pulling you forward or back. It leans back when you go down a hill, slow down or stop at full speed, just like your body does when you are walking or running,” says Thompson. He emphasizes that riders need to have enough arm control and strength to stay upright. “If you do flop onto your knees and can’t get upright and lean back, you will accelerate to full speed and won’t stop — in essence your body balance is the stop button.”
“We have had over 300 people demo the Ogo in the past few years and have had people with injuries as high as C5-6 that are able to drive it, though not as aggressively as somebody with a lower level injury,” says Thompson. “It is fun to see people learning how to work it. And when they do, they get this ear-to-ear grin — we call it the Ogo grin — and they are hooked.”
All it took to hook Kenza Kadmiry, a C5-6 quad, was a demo. Kadmiry, 26, normally pushes a manual chair and has good arm function, but limited hand function. “It is surprisingly easy to drive,” she says. “It is sensitive to minimal movements, and I found I could stay centered, balanced in one place, without hanging onto the handles. I liked it — it is on my wish list for sure. When I got back in my manual chair it felt heavy, like gravity was pulling me down.”
“It’s the closest thing to walking that I’ve experienced in my 20 years as a T10 para,” says Travis King, 50. “I got it going as fast as it would go and then threw myself backward and it came to a complete stop within 15 feet. It’s also really good in tight areas. I can see where it would be great for practical things like carrying grocery bags into the house or mowing the lawn. Also, you feel more that you are part of the crowd. If a person calls your name you just lean that way and you turn to face them, rather than having to grab your push rims, or move a joystick to turn to see the person.”
King sums up what many people who have seen and/or tried the Ogo are saying. “I’m really into it! I just need to figure out how to raise the money.”
The initial run of 60 Ogos have been purchased — most are headed to customers in the U.S. — and are set for delivery in late January 2018. Retail price is $16,996 plus $350 for off-road tires, plus freight from New Zealand at an estimated cost of $150. For inquiries, demos, sales and support, Ogo has set up an expanding network of 15 Ogo agents, including Living Spinal, all listed on the Ogo website.
$4 Million to Improve Mobility Products
The high cost of bringing a product like Ogo to market is something that stops many promising mobility ideas in their tracks. To offset those costs, Toyota Mobility Foundation announced the Mobility Unlimited Challenge, a $4 million prize designed to spur innovation that will improve mobility for people with lower-limb paralysis. The challenge was launched November 16 at a press conference in Los Angeles. For the contest, Toyota has partnered with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Center, a U.K.-based foundation.
The challenge runs for three years and has several award levels. Ten awards of $50,000 will go to groups that come up with promising concepts. Five finalists will each receive $500,000 to further their design. The winner will receive $1 million for the prototype that best meets the challenge statement: “create game-changing technology that will help radically improve the mobility and independence of people with paralysis.” The winners will be announced in Tokyo in 2020.
The challenge aims to attract innovators from all over the globe, including people who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to break into the assistive technology market. One of the many exciting aspects to the challenge is the absence of restrictive parameters, and the acknowledgement that mobility improvements mean different things to different people. Winning entries could be anything from exoskeletons to artificial intelligence to radical improvements in batteries. “I think of this as a challenge in universal design,” said Deborah McFadden. She is one of the ambassadors for the challenge, served as U.S. Commissioner of Disabilities from 1989 to 1993, and is also the mother of Paralympian Tatyana McFadden. “A successful outcome for me will be finding those creative people that think outside of the box. More importantly, [the winner] should be something that is available and affordable to people in developing countries, because bringing mobility to people in the entire world is important.”
“We look for particular areas where perhaps there isn’t enough innovation happening,” said Tris Dyson, director of Nesta’s Center For Challenge Prizes. “We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, and there is so much happening in artificial intelligence, robotics, etc., so let’s focus this on the challenge of mobility. This is an opportunity for unknown entrepreneurs to bring up new and novel ideas and get funding to develop game changing ideas.”
• Toyota Mobility Foundation, Mobility Unlimited Challenge, mobilityunlimited.org
Seated Segway Options
Andrew Hippert is the founder and owner of Living Spinal, one of the leading U.S. distributors for seated Segway modifications. He currently sells nine versions, including Ogo, and is an enthusiastic advocate and regular user. “Seated Segways are more fun than anything you will ride. They will get you into an adventure zone, on trails, cruising on a sandy beach or enable working on a farm,” he says.
Hippert, a C6-7 quad, sells the promise of adventure, but not without caution. “They are a mobility device, not an FDA approved normal power chair — they’re more like a bad-ass hoverboard. They have tons of power, speed and maneuverability, which is a lot of fun, but has the capability to buck you off if you push it hard, or hit a bump or curb at any speed,” he says. “It’s got two wheels, so ride with caution.”
He estimates there are between 800 and 1,200 seated Segways in the U.S., many of which he has sold. Although there are less expensive self-balancing power bases on the market, Hippert prefers the Segway base because of its built-in redundant safety features, superior speed (12 mph) and distance (24.8 miles range on a charge). He explains that models vary in driving and safety features as well as price, and his company’s goal is to help match a customer’s ability and pocketbook to the best machine for them.
Hippert’s seated Segway of choice is the Going, made in Italy. “I like the Going because it has a spring-loaded backrest that enables extra backward movement for slowing and stopping,” he says. “It also has several safety features, including a steering arm that locks in place when the machine is on so it can’t accidentally pull out when moving, and a two-stage footing system that first lifts an inch and reminds the rider to make sure the machine is turned on before lifting the rest of the way. On other seated Segways, except the Ogo, if you forget to power up the device before lifting up the feet, you will fall over.“ The Going retails for $14,498 with Segway base, or $8,499 for the seating system.
“I drove the Ogo and I think it’s awesome,” says Hippert. On the other hand, he finds that the center-mounted steering handle, which is removable for transfers and found on most seated Segways, makes riding easier for people with higher-level injuries because it provides a lever to push and pull on for the forward and backward motion needed for control input. “I’ve had some higher-level quads with super-limited arm movement be able to ride seated Segways, and the steering handle becomes important for them for balance,” he says.
Hippert’s best-selling seated Segway to date is the Blumil, made in Barcelona, Spain. It has a static, rigid-seat frame, and is also the least expensive model, coming in at $9,649, complete with Segway base, or $3,648 for just the seating system.
Another popular model is the AddSeat, made in Sweden, which has a steering handle and features a seat that glides forward and back, providing easier and more intuitive control input. It retails for $13,998 with Segway base, or $7,999 for the seating system.