CES is usually regarded as a gadget and electronics show rather than a disability one so it was a pleasant surprise to see the WHILL type-A Wheelchair being shown off there last week. The WHILL brands itself as a mobility device rather than a wheelchair, and its design ethic is more space age than old age.
Functionally it uses a technology seen in fork lifts and work vehicles – each wheel is ringed with a set of smaller powered rollers. This gives it both stability and a surprising degree of maneuverability: it will literally spin on the spot and uses all four wheels to move. The company behind it is Japanese and is so often the case in redesigned products it was made after the manufacturers met a single user who hated his chairs looks and lack of style.
The chair is currently available for pre-order and will be available in April for around $9995 with a limited run of around 100 chairs. At that point the company plans to redesign based on that they have learnt and release a new model. I’m not sure if the WHILL will be the next big thing in wheelchairs – its styling might act against it in day to day use but the use of the roller wheels is something that is new in wheelchair design and if it does not affect range and battery life too badly may be something that makes it to other brands.