Japanese power wheelchair manufacturer WHILL is preparing to deliver its first chairs in the second quarter of 2014 and has opened up its Web site to accept pre-orders and $500 deposits.
Headquartered in Tokyo, WHILL’s American office is in Menlo Park, Calif., and its Web site – whill.jp – said the manufacturer plans to hand deliver its first 50 American production units to consumers in California in the April-June timeframe.
Consumers are being invited to order a WHILL by placing a down payment of $500. The WHILL’s retail price is expected to be $9,500.
A Retail Purchase
Atsushi Mizushima, WHILL’s director of product development, confirmed to Mobility Management that the current power chair model does not have a HCPCS code and is not eligible for Medicare reimbursement – though Mizushima didn’t rule out that possibility for the future.
“We aspire to get over the stigma attached to wheelchairs and desire to make people on mobility devices happy just because they are on the mobility devices,” Mizushima said, in explaining the lack of HCPCS code. “As such, we don’t want to make it perceived as or be a ‘medical device,’ but we want to make it a personal mobility device that even non-disabled people want to ride, so that the users of our device can be proud of the device they are using.”
He added that WHILL is “definitely considering a Medicare-eligible model in the future,” but isn’t ready to set a timeframe for it.
The WHILL made its American debut in November at the Abilities Expo consumer event in San Jose, Calif., and Mizushima said the manufacturer “received so many good reactions” from event attendees.
The manufacturer also attended the famous Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.
A New Design
Japanese engineers previously with consumer electronics firms such as Olympus and Sony designed the WHILL, which has four wheels but can turn in its own space thanks to front wheels that move in multiple directions in a fashion similar to a ball bearing.
Consumers steer using the levers – which also act as armrests – that extend diagonally from the sides of the chair. The armrests move out of the way during transfers or to enable its user to roll under a table. Consumers can steer with either their left or right hands.
WHILL’s Web site says about driving via armrest, “Control is very intuitive, just like an ordinary joystick.”
The WHILL has a top speed of 6 mph and a user weight capacity of 300 lbs. Its team says it can navigate 10-degree slopes, weighs 176 lbs., and can climb obstacles up to 3 inches high.
The WHILL measures 23.6 inches wide and 32.5 inches long. Its seat width is 17.7×17.7 inches.
The First 50
The manufacturer will start distributing WHILL units in its home state of California in April through June, Mizushima says.
“We’d like to see and interact closer with our early adopters so that we can improve our product further, take responsibility of maintenance and support, and understand how the maintenance and support would work,” he notes in explaining why distribution will start in California.
Those first 50 units will be delivered by the manufacturer itself. WHILL is considering a different distribution method for subsequent units. Mizushima says, “While we’ve been talking with some candidates, nothing is decided regarding this.”
WHILL is aiming to start delivering chairs to consumers in other states as well as Japan in late 2014, Mizushima adds.