WHILL Power Chair Prepares for American Debut

A new Japanese power wheelchair is ready for its closeup with American audiences - and should be ready for delivery early next year, its manufacturer says.

The WHILL is a four-wheeled power chair created by a team of Japanese engineers with, according to their Web site, product development experience at major consumer electronics firms, including Olympus and Sony.

The chair's calling card is its special front wheel design that enables the vehicle to turn in its own space. The WHILL team refers to the design as a "special all-around wheel."

The WHILL's front wheel has the same general shape as traditional wheelchair wheels. But instead of tires, it has rollers that cross from one side of the wheel to the other. Those rollers give the front wheels the ability to turn in multiple directions, much like a ball bearing.

The WHILL is also steered differently, via lever-like arms that extend diagonally from the sides of the chair (and serve as the user's armrests). The arms can be moved out of the way for transfers and to enable users to fit under desks or tables. WHILL's team says the chair can be driven with either the user's left or right hand.

"All you need is a good command of your wrist and a little strength in your thumb and index finger," the WHILL Web site says. "Control is very intuitive, just like an ordinary joystick."

The chair has a top speed of 6 mph and a user weight capacity of 300 lbs. Its team says it's capable of navigating 10-degree slopes, weighs 176 lbs., and can climb obstacles up to 3 inches high.

In correspondence with Mobility Management, Atsushi Mizushima, WHILL's co-founder and director of business development, said of the new power chair, "We reflected the real voices of hundreds of mobility device users through the interviews and test drives with our previous prototype. WHILL provides everyone with more independence and style."

WHILL's team has raised $1.7 million so far, Mizushima added, to fund the chair's development.

He says the company expects to show off the WHILL at the San Jose, Calif., Abilities Expo event, Nov. 22-24, as well as at the 2014 Abilities Expo in Los Angeles, scheduled for February.

The WHILL will also be exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.

"We will work hard," Mizushima said, "to provide people with good and viable products, more independence and style."

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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