Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Michael Kaplan, a fellow geek and owner of the iBOT by Independence Technology (a division of Johnson & Johnson).
The iBOT is an extremely versatile and stable wheelchair that can actually stand on two wheels. In 2006, the iBOT retailed for $26,100 with a required prescription. New models are no longer being manufactured and support is expected to end in 2014.
While its name might give you the impression that it’s the next big Apple product, the iBOT was actually developed by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. While they both share a common trait allowing humans to travel on two wheels, this is where their similarities end.
Unlike the Segway, the iBOT doesn’t entirely trust in its operator. Its prime directive is to stay under the center of gravity of the person using it. The result is a stable, safer product that focuses on keeping the user upright, no matter what. This upright position allows the operator to stand over 6 feet tall in some cases, and by doing so allows them to function without many of the burdens typically associated with being in a wheelchair.
The iBOT also features a stair-climbing mode that allows it the user to “walk” up and down standard stairs, breaking down barriers previously associated with being in a wheelchair. It does this by rotating the wheels in a manor much like a rack and pinion.
Another advantage to this design is its ability to operate in various terrains including gravel, sand, and water up to 3″ deep.
Unfortunately, the $26,100 price tag kept this incredible invention from really taking off. Despite having the backing of much larger companies (including Johnson & Johnson), the iBOT was discontinued in 2009 after just a few years. This isn’t to say that this innovation won’t find itself in widespread use in the future. Every day, technologies that were once considered too expensive are emerging as viable consumer products as the costs involved with manufacturing these products continue to decline.