told you !, 2up

  1. 2,794 Posts.
    And on a completely different subject, if I hadn,t read this, I wouldn,t have believed it

    Off-road wheelchair

    SEPTEMBER 02, 2003

    WASHINGTON: Stairs are about to become less of an obstacle for wheelchair users.

    The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a wheelchair that can go up and down steps -- as well as shift into four-wheel drive for grassy hills and elevate occupants to standing height.
    Called the iBOT Mobility System, the wheelchair uses sensors and gyroscopes to navigate stairs while balancing on two wheels.

    Doctors say the system could be revolutionary, but it is so complex that the FDA decided the wheelchair would require a doctor's prescription and special training to drive.

    The iBOT, made by Johnson and Johnson subsidiary Independence Technology, costs $US29,000 ($44,300) -- less than some top-of-the-line models for the severely impaired, but far more than basic wheelchairs. Sales will begin in the US by the end of the year, a company spokesman says.

    Wheelchairs have become increasingly capable. Some can raise a user a few centimetres to reach high objects. More agile models are designed for zipping around basketball or tennis courts.

    In the early 1990s, the FDA approved one model solely for stair-climbing, but it did not become popular because it did not provide more routine transport, Robert DeLuca, the FDA scientist who led the iBOT evaluation, says.

    The iBOT, in contrast, is an all-purpose wheelchair that also climbs.

    "This can really benefit patients," DeLuca says. "It offers many advantages over anything else ever seen."

    Most wheelchairs have two big back wheels and two smaller front wheels. The iBOT has four wheels the same size that rotate over each other to go up and down steps.

    It does require some user exertion, meaning the iBOT is not an option for all wheelchair users.

    People must have the use of at least one arm to operate the iBOT's joystick and other controls. Then they must lean forwards or backwards, directing the chair to climb up or down as the gyroscopes sense and adjust to the person's centre of gravity.

    Users must hold on to a stair rail to help guide the iBOT, although there is a feature that allows someone else to hold the chair's back and assist the more severely disabled on stairs.

    So far, it is not built for children or for people who weigh more than 112 kilograms.

    Dean Kamen, an inventor whose credits include the Segway scooter, created the iBOT and licensed it to Johnson and Johnson. He says he built it not just for stair-climbing ability but the extra elevation, because wheelchair users had told him they longed to carry on eye-level conversations with people standing nearby, and reach high grocery shelves by themselves.

    To prove iBOT works, 18 wheelchair users test-drove it for two weeks. Scientists compared manoeuvrability in the iBOT versus users' regular wheelchairs in everyday situations and special tests.

    Twelve patients could navigate stairs alone with the iBOT, while the rest needed an assistant. In regular wheelchairs, one patient could literally bump his way down stairs, but no one could go up a single step.

    Three people fell out of the iBOT and two fell out of their own wheelchairs during the study -- none on stairs and none was seriously injured -- suggesting the iBOT was as safe as today's technology, the FDA concluded.

    But the iBOT's complexity means that the wrong person using it could get hurt or injure bystanders. So, Independence Technology set up an FDA-approved program to strictly control sales.

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