Inspired by bicycles, scooters, and skateboards that make their users feel happy, and designed by former Sony, Toyota, and Olympus engineers, startup Whill has taken its first wheelchair, the Type-A, from an idea to production. The company says the chair is now available for preorder and will start shipping within the US in early 2014.
The wheelchair took TechCrunch Tokyo by storm last year, winning the conference's 2012 grand prize. Whill has raised $1.7 million so far, boasting a wide range of investors.
The company started off interviewing 150 wheelchair users in the US, and told TechCrunch that people most often said they wanted both stability and a nimble machine but, most importantly of all, one that would help get rid of the negative stigma long tied to wheelchairs.
"Imagine a car, bicycle, scooter, or skateboard, all devices that basically make you feel happy," Atsushi Mizushima, Whill's director of business development, told TechCrunch. "Only the wheelchair, as a mobility device, makes people feel uncomfortable. People's perception of those devices are that they are limiting...In addition to the aesthetics, what we try to achieve is the feeling of driving a car, motorcycle, or skateboard."
What they've come up with seems to do the job. Not only is the sleek Type-A quite possibly the world's first wheelchair after which people may lust, but it enables users to sit in different positions -- for instance, the lean-in, which lets them look and feel like they are riding a motorcycle and more actively involved in the operation of the device.
Whill says it also has improved on traditional wheelchairs by establishing better balance between turning radius and terrain coverage, enabling users to make tiny turns via wheels with rollers that can move freely and providing a turning radius of 28 inches. This also adds a level of stability that lets the chair navigate rough, rocky terrain with bumps as high as 3 inches -- though taking something so pretty for a joy ride on a gravel road seems a bit, well, reckless.
Whill hasn't yet set a price for Type-A -- which Mizushima hopes will ultimately be "the iPhone of mobility devices" -- though one can assume it is advisable to remain sitting in one's older-model wheelchair when the price is eventually announced.