iBot Climbing Wheelchair Finally Gets FDA Approval
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
August 13, 2003
WASHINGTON, DC--More than four years after the iBot Mobility System was introduced, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the wheelchair it for use and sale in the United States.
The iBot is considered revolutionary because it can safely climb stairs and curbs, and can bring the user to a full standing position to be eye-to-eye with people who do not use wheelchairs. The iBot also shifts into 4-wheel drive to roll over grassy fields, sandy beaches or just about anywhere the user wants to go.
The iBot, designed by Segway inventor Dean Kamen, balances the user on two sets of rear wheels that lock while lifting the person to an upright position. A system of gyroscopes make it relatively simple for the user to guide the iBot by leaning forward or backward. Still, the system is complex enough that the FDA is requiring the iBot be sold only through prescription and that users be trained in its operation.
Independence Technology, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, plans to begin selling the iBot later this year with a $29,000 price tag. The company is negotiating with Medicare and other insurers to see if they will cover the iBot as a "medically necessary" expense.
Since the iBot was first introduced in 1999, disability rights advocates have cautioned that the introduction of a stair-climbing wheelchair does not mean that wheelchair ramps, curb cuts and other accessibility features are no longer needed. In fact, the iBot itself has several limitations beyond its sticker price. For example, the device will only be available to people who weigh under 250 pounds, can grab a hand-rail to assist themselves up and down stairs, can lean forward or backward, and can operate a touch pad controller.
"Stair-Climbing Wheelchair Gets FDA's OK" (Associated Press)
iBot Mobility System (Independence Technology)
Past articles with video and audio clips:
"A revolutionary new wheelchair" by John Hockenberry (Dateline NBC -- June 30, 1999)
"Super wheelchair tackles stairs (BBC News - June 2, 2000)
RealVideo clip (BBC)
RealAudio interview (BBC)