More than two decades ago I was one of the reporters who got an early peek* at an eye-popping machine being developed by Dean Kamen: a motorized wheelchair that could stand up on two wheels, raising its occupant to eye level with standing adults, and also climb stairs. It overcame the two biggest drawbacks to life in a wheelchair.
The machine, called IBOT in a name that now sounds really dated, freaked me out because the Segway had not yet been introduced. We weren’t used to the idea of machines balancing themselves on two wheels while holding people; it seemed like magic. (Kamen, who is no fool in the showmanship department, declined to say how it worked.)
Despite its abilities the very expensive IBOT never went anywhere because it was never accepted as a medical device and therefore wasn’t covered by insurance. I only saw it once after that, when Kamen was riding one during FIRST robotics finals at the Verizon Center in Manchester.
But as the Union-Leader reports (in this story) that insurance coverage finally exists and we might start seeing them in the wild, so to speak. Kamen and his company DEKA are no longer involved; a Millyard firm called Mobius Mobility now owns the rights and is making them.
This is very cool, and long overdue.
*You’ll have to take my word for my : my story disappeared into the aether after the Nashua Telegraph was sold.