CRT Technology Showcase
NAVIONE: Yamaha Aims for Power-Assist Inclusivity
Power assist has traditionally been used by ultralightweight wheelchair users with certain diagnoses, including spinal cord injury, spina bifida and lower-extremity limb loss. Those consumers use power assist to extend their range on school or work campuses, while shopping or while traveling.
But limiting power assist to those diagnoses or to traditionally younger and more active consumers leaves many other consumers behind. What about older clients, such as stroke patients? Or consumers with more modest independence goals, such as getting from a bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast?
With its newly launched NAVIONE, Yamaha Motor Corp. seeks to empower all types of manual wheelchair users who want to improve their personal mobility.
The NAVIONE Learning Curve
Yamaha is no stranger to the power-assist segment, having manufactured the Xtender power-assist unit for Sunrise Medical’s Quickie line for years.
On that note, a Yamaha spokesman said, “The Xtender and the relationship with Sunrise Medical is still incredibly important to us. We fully support that integrated product from Sunrise, and we support both Sunrise and the field for any Xtender-related inquiries or product questions.”
With the NAVIONE, Yamaha aims for inclusivity, for a product that embraces younger active users as well as older users who might be less tech savvy.
One of NAVIONE’s selling points is its learning curve, or lack thereof.
“It is intentionally designed to operate just like your manual wheelchair,” said Joe Klickna, Business Manager for the NAVIONE. “So whether [clients] have been using a manual wheelchair for years or were recently introduced to one, how they learned to use that manual wheelchair is exactly how they’ll learn the NAVIONE.
“There is little to no new muscle memory and no new maneuvering skills to learn. It is truly the same stroke, and the same way to turn, accelerate and brake as a manual wheelchair. That is a critical difference to competitive products, which could require additional accessories to carry or wear, additional arm or hand movements to change functions, or programming each wheel independently to operate. Our product does all of that right out of the box, on its own.”
The NAVIONE system is built into two wheels (22" or 24") and also includes a battery pack. The drive control is proportional, and the two wheels communicate with each other constantly.
Every time the handrim is initiated and with every push, NAVIONE takes multiple readings. Then it adapts accordingly, which is why it can embrace such a wide range of client types and a wide range of life stages, as well.
Yamaha Motor Corp. knows a lot about speed, including the fact that speed isn’t everything.
In fact, the NAVIONE isn’t designed to always go as fast as possible. Instead, engineers created a system that’s all about efficiency and control. NAVIONE is meant to be an extension of what its rider intends to do.
That certainly means covering a lot of ground efficiently. But it also means navigating slopes — up and down — safely and confidently. And adapting easily to changes or discrepancies in clients’ abilities, even abilities that fade as the day goes on.
“There is no [client] adjustment that has to happen during the course of the day,” Klickna said. “The NAVIONE reacts every time. For uneven arm-strength patients, for minor strength inequalities or restricted propulsion stroke length on one side or the other, it adapts automatically. Both wheels work together for the client’s best interests.”
The NAVIONE system doesn’t store or “remember” data. But it does react to the previous push. On a smooth, level surface, the NAVIONE understands that its user is cruising along. As its user starts to propel up a ramp, however, the NAVIONE recognizes that less ground is being covered per push on the handrim.
“The NAVIONE understands you’re losing momentum quicker,” Klickna noted, “and it extends your power stroke to make it as smooth an ascent as possible.
“It knows you’re losing momentum, so up the hill, it extends the power stroke. Down the hill, it will begin to generate negative power if you exceed 4 mph. And going down the hill, any light resistance on the handrim — just some rolling friction — slowly begins to apply the brake. So it is incredibly smooth braking. Sometimes in power products that don’t have proportional control, the braking will be more abrupt and possibly even cause the wheels to lock up. This product is very smooth and will attempt to slow you down to less than 4 mph.”
Further Fine-Tuning Available
Authorized dealers and clinicians can use NAVIONE software to make quick adjustments for clients with highly specialized needs.
Built into a manual chair wheel, Yamaha’s NAVIONE power assist is easy to remove for transport (and just as easy to put back on).
When presented with more severe cases of unequal arm strength, or with clients who hemi propel or propel with one arm and one foot, clinicians and ATPs can use the SmarTune software program to further dial NAVIONE in to that particular case.
Yamaha has heard from therapists who turn down the speed to create a “training mode” for pediatric clients who love to go fast. Using SmarTune software to adjust to specific situations can help clients learn the NAVIONE safely, without running over the dog just for fun. As users learn, get older, or see their conditions or circumstances change, clinicians and ATPs can turn up the system’s power or switch modes to better suit new goals.
The NAVIONE, which fits most rigid and folding models, can be transported in several different ways. The two wheels and the battery add 38 lbs. to the chair. NAVIONE users who travel independently can take the wheels off (each one weighs approximately 15 lbs.) and store wheels and frame in the passenger seat. Or family members can remove the wheels and tuck them and the chair frame into the trunk. If NAVIONE is on a folding chair, family members often prefer to fold the chair with the wheels still on and pop the entire chair into the trunk.
“Our goal,” Klickna said, “is to give them more options.” Yamaha also offers two battery choices. The nickel battery has a range of 12.5 miles per charge under average conditions. The lithium battery averages 25 miles per charge. Since the battery is separate from the wheels, users who buy a spare battery can charge one while using the other.
Yamaha clearly has planned for NAVIONE users who want to roll all day, and the manufacturer has been glad to hear from consumers who used the power assist to conquer fairgrounds, for instance.
But Yamaha has been just as gratified to hear how the NAVIONE has improved quality of life for users with more modest goals.
“We hear from so many people who are so weak, mostly homebound, who want to be independent just in their own homes,” Klickna said. “Maybe they’ve reached a stage where they can’t push themselves. Our product can be pushed by as little as a finger. Some of the stories we’ve been most thankful to be a part of have been from those who used to push, but have given up because of pain or because they don’t have the strength. They’ve accepted that someone else will have to push them from the kitchen to the living room, or to the bathroom.
“Our product can help those who are essentially homebound get around their home or facility. It’s easy to advertise active paraplegics and athletes out there. But for 60- and 70-year-olds still clinging to their independence, this product can really help them in their home.”
Following an unveiling at Vancouver’s International Seating Symposium in March, the NAVIONE is now officially ready to roll — and Yamaha is signing up dealers.
“We are actively looking for providers who have a strong connection to their community, and who hold service as a key component of their success,” said Rob Trester, Division Manager, New Business Development Division at Yamaha. “We expect to provide our dealers with tools and resources so every NAVIONE experience is a positive one. That runs through the core of Yamaha for every product. We look forward to giving our new mobility customers that same level of service so they have the confidence that the NAVIONE is the right choice for them.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Mobility Management.