A wheelchair for the Great Outdoors

Electric wheelchair manufacturer Whill recently unveiled its latest model, the Model M, at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

It’s electric, like many other modern wheelchairs, but it also has an interesting ace up its sleeve…

Besides its sci-fi looks, it features four-wheel drive, made possible by two electric motors. So, it’s capable of reaching a top speed of nearly 9km/h and cover a total distance of 24km on a single charge.

It’s also not just your average gizmo with four-wheel drive. The chair features Omni-wheel patented technology, described by Whill as “an innovation in both maneuverability and terrain coverage”.

The front ‘Omni-wheels’ offer disabled users handy flexibility since it’s not only capable of rolling forwards, but also sideways thanks to rolling discs fitted around the circumferences of the front wheels. This results in a turning radius of only 70cm.

The rolling discs also provide a grippy surface for the front wheels that makes it easier to scamper over rough terrain.

Despite this clever functionality, real-world practicality hasn’t been shoved aside. All contact points with the body can be adjusted to best suit an individual’s needs, while the nifty electronics also allow the power-sliding seat to move backwards and forwards for comfortable seating around a table.

According to Sugie Satoshi, CEO of Whill, the wheelchair industry has seen ‘very little’ innovation in the past. “Our user-centric approach has helped us craft an innovative vehicle that empowers the disabled community to enjoy newfound freedom. Our customers drive the Model M with a smile on their face and are excited to enjoy the outdoors in ways previously inaccessible using standard power wheelchairs.”

The company also hopes that software accompanying the Model M will eventually evolve much like that of autonomous cars to become more integrated with and responsive to the surrounding environment.

Perhaps fully-autonomous wheelchairs will soon be on the cards? Only time will tell…