Toyota Signs Agreement to Develop Next-Generation iBOT PWC

More than seven years after Johnson & Johnson’s Independence Technology division announced it was stopping production of iBOT, the famous self-balancing, stair-climbing power wheelchair, Toyota Motor North America said it had signed an agreement with inventor Dean Kamen to develop and launch “the next generation” of iBOT.

ibot proto200 

In a May 21 announcement, Toyota said it was “joining forces” with Kamen’s DEKA Research and Development company “to support mobility solutions for the disabled community.” Kamen’s gyroscopic technology was at the heart of iBOT’s balancing and stair-climbing capabilities, and also is used in Segway personal mobility vehicles.

iBOT was launched by Johnson & Johnson in 2003, and the company announced in late 2008 that it was ceasing production.

“Our company is very focused on mobility solutions for all people,” said Osamu Nagata, the executive VP/chief administrative officer at Toyota Motor North America. “We realize that it is important to help older adults and people with special needs live well and continue to contribute their talents and experience to the world.”

In the announcement, Kamen added, “Toyota and DEKA share the same vision of making mobility available to people of every kind of ability. We are excited about this new relationship and excited about what it means for making that dream a reality.”

Nagata announced the new partnership at the annual convention of Paralyzed Veterans of America in Jacksonville, Fla.

The original iBOT was particularly popular among veterans. Independence Technology chose to provide the iBOT directly to consumers via clinician assessment, and excluded traditional complex rehab technology providers from its distribution chain entirely.

In the end, the iBOT’s price tag — more than $26,000 at the time Independence Technology stopped producing it — hurt sales, as did Medicare’s refusal to categorize the iBOT’s seat elevation or stair-climbing prowess as medically necessary. Medicare also held iBOT to the same “in the home” utilization criteria as other power wheelchairs, which further hampered sales efforts, since the chair’s marketing campaign was heavily skewed toward outdoor and community use.

Despite its self-balancing abilities, iBOT did not offer typical rehab seating functions, such as tilt, recline or elevating legrests, and iBOT owners needed to be able to use a traditional joystick. iBOT’s weight capacity was 250 lbs.

A photograph of a second-generation iBOT prototype showed a traditional joystick and the chair’s well-known ability to balance on two wheels. The back, armrests, seat and footrest of the prototype were reminiscent of components commonly seen on ultralightweight manual chairs.

The Toyota announcement said the company would “license balancing technologies held by DEKA and its affiliate for medical rehabilitative therapy and potentially other purposes. The companies continue to engage in ongoing discussions about how Toyota can further support DEKA and its mobility assistance technology.”

About the Author

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

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