Consumers to Give Test Drives of WHILL Devices

WHILL, manufacturer of a power personal mobility device for consumers as well as an FDA-cleared power wheelchair, has announced a program that will use current WHILL device owners to privately conduct and oversee test drives by potential buyers.

The program is called WeDrive, and one of its goals is to facilitate demonstrations of WHILL devices, particularly in areas where the manufacturer currently has few or no dealers or ATPs to offer traditional test drives.

A Ride-Sharing Model?

In an April 10 news announcement, WHILL called the program a “nationwide shared economy service” and said the program “is revolutionizing how users test drive personal mobility products by introducing mobility device sharing — a personal mobility test drive service to help those interested in better understanding their options, and determine the best fit for their lifestyle.”

Wheelchair test drives are usually conducted by seating and mobility clinicians and ATPs in clinical settings, though demos can include trials in clients’ homes, schools and communities as well. According to WHILL, the current model has significant limitations.

“Until now, users were relegated to medical equipment showrooms, rehabilitation centers, or trial and error with online retailers,” the company said. “Users were also confined to small spaces to test various mobility devices for a very short period of time. WeDrive eliminates the restricted test drive and pressured buying experience by enabling a community of users to share their personal experiences driving state-of-the-art WHILL Personal EVs.”

There appear to be similarities between the WeDrive system and ride-sharing or transportation networks such as Uber. WHILL is signing up current WHILL device owners (known as Community Drivers, in WHILL parlance) and will help to match them up with nearby consumers interested in test driving a WHILL vehicle. The news announcement added, “Users are incentivized to register with monetary compensation from WHILL.”

Prolonged Test Drives

Jeff Yoshioka, marketing manager for WHILL, confirmed during an interview with Mobility Management that WeDrive is available for both Model A (a personal mobility device) and Model M (WHILL has applied for a K0848 code and is awaiting a decision).

Yoshioka said WHILL qualifies Community Drivers by confirming they “fully understand the features and capabilities of the device before they start participating in this program.” Consumers who borrow Community Drivers’ WHILL vehicles will have “more opportunity to test drive the device in a natural setting for a longer period of time so they can see how it really handles in different terrains, different obstacles, going into tight spaces, maneuvering throughout crowds, etc.”

WHILL also anticipates that Community Drivers will discuss how WHILL’s vehicles have impacted their lives, which Yoshioka says consumers “won’t get from testing the device at a DME or a rehab center or hospital.”

Initial test-drive matchmaking will consider basic information, such as the size of the potential test driver and the size of the WHILL vehicle being borrowed, to ensure a reasonably comparable match-up.

“We’re doing the basic qualification questions,” Yoshioka said. “For example, [making sure the consumer is] not needing a complex seating system, and having dexterity in either hand, hopefully matching the controller side of the [vehicle being borrowed from the] WHILL owner, and being able to use the device.”

Clinical Considerations

Yoshioka was asked if WHILL would screen consumers to make sure they could test drive vehicles safely.

“So this is a very hands-off platform,” Yoshioka said of WeDrive. “The communication will be between the Community Driver and the prospect. So what we’re doing is providing the qualification questions to our Community Drivers and additional training on performing a test drive, so that way, when they connect on this platform, they can ask these questions so they can be sure the individual can use a WHILL product before they actually go out and do a test drive.”

But since WHILL owners are presumably not seating and mobility clinicians or ATPs, do they have the knowledge needed to disqualify a potential test driver — for example, someone in the early stages of ALS, who will eventually need the complex electronics and positioning that neither WHILL vehicle offers?

“This is more of a way to give people options, to better understand what’s out in the market,” Yoshioka said. “They definitely will have to go through their therapist or physician in order to figure out which device would best suit them in the long term. But this WeDrive program will allow them to try different devices before they go in and get their fitting for the device that they’ll need. At least this will give them the chance to talk about their options a little bit better.”

WeDrive officially rolled out April 10, and WHILL hopes other power chair manufacturers will eventually participate.

“We definitely want this program to grow, and in the future hopefully we’ll open it up to other products,” Yoshioka said. “For right now it’s just going to be WHILL owners and WHILL products. It goes back to building a larger community.”

About the Author

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

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