The reveal of the iBOT in 1999 was the first time I can remember getting excited about adaptive equipment. I’d been injured just over a year and still hadn’t sold myself on the idea of using a power chair full time. In my 18-year-old mind it was pretty simple: Cool kids used manual chairs and everybody else used power chairs.
Watching the iBOT cruise over sand and snow and then, miraculously climb up and down stairs, it seemed like it could change things — improve access and perceptions of what a wheelchair could do. In this issue we cover two new products that have the same potential, the second-generation iBOT and the Bowhead Reach. Both offer slick designs and unique, empowering features that could change users’ lives. They also share the original iBOT’s ultimate downfall: a hefty price tag with limited prospects of insurance coverage.
The new iBOT will set you back almost $30,000. The Bowhead Reach starts at $15,000.
In their respective features, Bob Vogel and Seth McBride do a good job explaining some of the intricacies behind why these devices cost so much and why insurance doesn’t touch them, but I can sympathize with anyone who reads about the new chairs and feels left out. On top of the never-ending list of medical and adaptive expenses so many of us must endure, how the hell are we supposed to afford these things?
The harsh reality is that unless you become god’s gift to crowdfunding or win the lottery, there’s no how-to guide or resource list we can publish that will make it easier for you to get an iBOT or Bowhead Reach.
But before you slam down the magazine or rage-quit your browser wondering why we would devote so much space to things that seem so far out of reach, think back to 1999 and how far wheelchair and adaptive tech has come. Seat elevators, power assist devices and improved drive systems are but a few of the many advances we enjoy today thanks to the innovations of the last 20 years.
In an ideal world, all of these life-changing devices would be affordable for everyone from day one. But it’s just as easy to imagine a much darker reality in which the innovation that actually improves our mobility equipment has been replaced by corporate restyling — where new names, model numbers and letters are the only real changes from year to year.
Innovators like Dean Kamen, inventor of the iBOT, and Christian Bagg, inventor of the Bowhead Reach, are a big part of why the technology keeps improving – even if it seems to do so too slowly or at too high a cost. The stories behind them and their inventions are as interesting as the devices themselves, and they reflect the underlying dynamics that drive the technology so many of us rely on.
As Vogel reports in this issue’s cover story, there are already people lining up to buy a new iBOT, and surely there are many outdoor enthusiasts who will find a way to pony up for the Bowhead Reach. Hopefully both companies will find ways to lower their price, allowing more of us to enjoy them and benefit from their advances. In the meantime, by sharing their stories and reporting on their inventions, we hope to inspire the next generation of inventors and keep progress rolling.