Wheelchair Technology is Racing Forward Into the Future
Updated: May 14, 2021
Article originally featured on HomeCare Magazine
What active wheelchair rider hasn’t accidentally slammed into a sofa or slipped off a street curb, often ending up with injuries? Or almost did? And what about back pain and pressure sores?
Safety, access and comfort haven’t been the traditional hallmarks of wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility devices. But that is changing, thanks to the fast-moving technological advancements made in recent years. The latest, cutting-edge breakthroughs also can turn any wheelchair into a smart one—with attachable artificial intelligence, machine learning and big-data analysis, and cloud-based connectivity.
Listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Inventions of 2020, LUCI’s high-tech sensors keep a lookout for obstacles, drop-offs and sudden slopes. The world’s first patent-pending blind-spot sensors from Braze Mobility use lights, sounds and vibrations to warn wheelchair users of an obstacle’s location within a 180-degree span.
Solar Mobility promises to end skin ulcers with the Liberator, the first wheelchair with solar technology for an air-ride suspension that absorbs jarring and friction, plus an air-cooled seat to prevent heat build-up. Sunrise Medical also promises better pressure management—its Switch-It Remote Seating mobile phone app tracks and improves the duration of tilt, recline and leg elevation.
For those who can stand while rolling, Sunrise Medical’s QUICKIE Q700-UP F SEDEO ERGO wheelchair offers that ride at up to an 85-degree angle. And whoever thought a wheelchair could go up and down stairs? Right now, the Scewo Bro is the only one that does; it also keeps its balance on uneven terrain, even for users without upper-body stability.
Certainly, there’s no sitting still for the wheelchair and powered mobile device industry. HomeCare checked in with three key players to see what’s new. Barry Dean, CEO of LUCI; Renae Storie, vice president of Pride Mobility; and Jay Brislin, vice president of Quantum Rehab, a division of the latter, talk about their newest rollouts and what the future holds for those in the driver’s seat.
HOMECARE: What are you best known for?
BARRY DEAN, LUCI: We’re a game-changer for power wheelchair riders, bringing innovative smart technology to a space that badly needed it. Our product is a hardware/software platform that attaches to power wheelchairs to provide security, stability and connectivity through cloud and sensor-fusion technologies.
RENAE STORIE, PRIDE MOBILITY: Based on consumer need, we innovated the acclaimed Jazzy Power Chair in 1996, offering industry-leading maneuverability with its patented mid-wheel-drive technology. It was immediately recognized as among the most stylish and natural-feeling power wheelchairs ever designed.
JAY BRISLIN, QUANTUM REHAB: Our constant goal is to be the friendliest and easiest company to do business with in the complex rehabilitation technology community. We strive to always listen to feedback from consumers, providers and clinicians, which has allowed us to launch several industry-leading and consumer-driven products.
HOMECARE: What are your latest innovations for mobility products?
DEAN: We launched our initial LUCI product in June 2020. It offers collision avoidance, empowering riders to smoothly increase and decrease the chair’s speed. LUCI also recognizes steps and drop-offs, smoothly bringing the wheelchair to a stop. And it monitors the slope riders are on and provides an audible alert if the ground or ramp risks tipping the person. If the chair does tip over, LUCI sounds an alarm for help, directed to predetermined loved ones, conveying what happened and where. LUCI can also alert them to a dangerously low battery, along with the rider’s location, and other hazardous events. The MyLUCI portal [on the app] allows riders to view their data and, if they choose, share it with loved ones and clinicians and teams.
STORIE: We have several new, exciting products coming out this year. I can’t talk details yet, but you can expect innovation within new Jazzy Power Chair models, another VivaLift! Power Recliner model and an additional Go-Go Travel Mobility scooter. The scooter’s Zero Turn iTurn Technology provides up to a 30% better turning radius and its dual motors have substantially greater power and traction than a typical, similarly sized four-wheel scooter. And the Jazzy Air 2’s power elevating seat lets clients complete daily-living activities they otherwise may not be able to do independently, such as cooking or reaching for medication from the cabinet and
BRISLIN: Most recently, we launched the Edge 3 Stretto, Quantum Backup Camera, and Bluetooth programming via an iPhone for Quantum units with Q-Logic 3 Advanced Drive Control System electronics. The camera, with its 170-degree wide angle view, lets clients see what’s behind them, as well as their surrounding environment, all the time.
HOMECARE: What’s on the horizon for your company as we settle into 2021? What should we look for?
DEAN: As we expand and grow, we may expand our focus to include mobility scooters or even golf carts and other forms of mobility. But right now we’re singularly focused on putting LUCI on as many power wheelchairs as possible.
BRISLIN: We’re excited about several upcoming launches in the second quarter of 2021. These include the 4Front 2 and 4Front 2 HD front-wheel-drive power chairs and the highly anticipated TRU-Balance4 Power Positioning Systems with anterior tilt and memory seating capabilities. Continued electronic enhancements, increasing Bluetooth capabilities, home modifications and environmental compatibility from the wheelchair are all areas we are highly focused on for future developments.
HOMECARE: How do you see wheelchair and mobility device technology advancing in general?
DEAN: We’re excited about the possibilities around collecting and leveraging user data in a better, smarter way, and also around insurance reimbursement for technology in powered mobility. We’re looking forward to getting to a place where the phrase “in the home” isn’t used to restrict access to technology and the things that are needed by a person for their independence. People in power chairs have school and jobs and other places they need to go, and currently, the physical risks in those places aren’t being taken into account.
BRISLIN: We see the growing number of features and capabilities in our phones and vehicles, and we need to ensure that complex wheelchairs follow that same path for technological advancements, as the industry continues to grow and expand.
HOMECARE: What are you most excited about?
DEAN: We hope the introduction of LUCI to the market can be a catalyst for the innovation and collaboration needed to bring mobility into the 21st century. Ultimately, we hope the experience and information LUCI provides will lead to real improvements in riders’ health and quality of life. We believe the future is bright and very exciting for innovative powered mobility.
One thing that really excites us about LUCI is the potential for this type of technology to open the world of powered mobility to users who may not have been candidates before. Since day one, we’ve been working alongside a wonderful team of outside clinicians, led by the great Jean Minkel, and they’re also optimistic about LUCI’s potential to change the way clinical decision-makers think about who belongs in a power chair. And that’s tremendously exciting.