NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There has been a breakthrough for people who’ve lost their legs, suffered spinal cord injuries and have other mobility issues.
It looks like a souped-up electric wheelchair, but CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez says don’t call the iBOT a wheelchair.
Why? Because it’s like calling a Model T, a car.
Yeah, they kind of look alike, but the iBOT is more like the Ferrari of wheelchairs.
To understand why, you have to see the amazing things it can do and more importantly, what it does for people who need a wheelchair.
At first glance, the iBOT looks pretty much like a fancy electric wheelchair. It has a joystick to maneuver it and four wheels for get up and go. Then Gomez met retired Marine Cpl. Eddie Beesley, who lost both legs to a landmine in Vietnam 54 years ago.
First, he showed Gomez how the iBOT can elevate so he can talk with me, eye to eye, with no risk of falling over. Then he explained what’s even more important.
“If you’re going to ask my wife, what’s the most important part? It’s when I get up in this balance mode like this, then we could slow dance,” Beesley said.
You see, Connie Beesley was working as a USO hostess when she met Eddie, who was recovering stateside from his injuries, and she loved to dance. Now they can again.
But that’s just the tip of what the iBOT can do. Eddie showed Gomez how it goes up and down stairs.
Then Alan Brown, who consulted on the re-design of this chair, showed Gomez the improved computer interface. It’s 100 pounds lighter than the previous iBOT. It can navigate city streets, and how it can turn, if not on a dime, pretty close, with a hugely improved battery life.
Brown later showed Gomez how even on two wheels, the iBOT resists tipping, but most importantly it’s what the elevate mode does for his self-esteem.
“When one lives in a wheelchair, they’re down below and people are looking down at us. But the iBOT allows us to see people eye-to-eye and look up at the world,” Brown said.
Still, those are just a few of the iBOT’s capabilities. Its four-wheel drive mode lets it run over uneven surfaces and plow through sand.
All that said, Food and Drug Administration says the iBOT’s safety record should make it more available.
“We hope that by some means the community that needs them and the community that cares about the people that need them are going to make a compelling case to put a code around this device so that the people that could benefit from it will have access to it,” said Dean Kamen of DEKA research and development.
Kamen was referring to CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, which decides on insurance reimbursement codes that private insurance also tend to follow.
iBOT’s manufacturer, Mobius Technology, is also working with a number of foundations, again to help underwrite the $20,000-plus cost of the iBOT to get it to more people who need it.