Independence Technology to Cease iBOT Sales in January

Independence Technology will stop marketing and selling its iBOT power wheelchair in January.

A Dec. 12 statement issued by Independence Technology's public affairs agency said, "Despite significant, long-term investment by the company and acceptance of the iBOT mobility system, demand has not proven sufficient to create a sustainable market. A challenging reimbursement environment for innovative assistive technologies has been a factor in limiting demand."

iBOT's Web site - www.ibotnow.com -- currently lists the chair's price as $26,100.

The chair - perhaps best known for its stair-climbing ability - formally debuted as the iBOT 3000 Mobility System in 2003, though it had appeared at industry events and on television news programs for years before that. The iBOT's gyroscope technology, which enables it to balance on two wheels and to climb stairs and other obstacles, is also seen in Segway consumer vehicles and is credited to inventor Dean Kamen.

Health-care giant Johnson & Johnson partnered with Kamen's DEKA Research & Development Corp. in 1995 to develop and market the iBOT. Johnson & Johnson formed Independence Technology in 1999, and the division at one time marketed and sold the iGLIDE power-assist manual wheelchair, which was also introduced in 2003. iGLIDE was discontinued the following year.

In 2005, Independence Technology received FDA approval for the iBOT Mobility System 4000, the chair's current iteration.

Although iBOT became something of a mainstream media darling thanks to appearances on programs such as NBC's Dateline, even admirers of the general technology wondered about iBOT's seemingly narrow demographic. For instance, the most famous of the iBOT's abilities - stair-climbing - required the user to "guide" iBOT by holding firmly to the staircase's handrail as the chair ascended or descended. Since many power chair users lack that required strength, balance, stamina and/or postural stability, some providers wondered how many of their clients would be able to use iBOT, which also required standard joystick driving and, as a custom-built vehicle, did not generally accommodate other manufacturers' positioning equipment.

Independence Technology went even further outside the box by electing to skip the rehab technology supplier network altogether. Instead, Independence Technology required potential buyers to obtain a prescription, then travel to a rehab facility whose clinical personnel had been trained to assess clients for iBOT usage. Repairs were handled initially by roving technicians, then later by telephone hotlines, the mailing of replacement parts to iBOT owners, and sometimes by technicians making house calls.

Independence Technology has confirmed that the company will provide tech support and service to iBOT users through 2013, "at which time the company will close."

An Independence Technology spokesman called news of the iBOT's end a "disappointing announcement."

"The demand just hasn't been sufficient," he said. "We don't really say what the sales number is, but we tell people it's in the hundreds, not the thousands."

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