Imagine meeting a man in a wheelchair and having that man tell you that he no longer wish to go to the grocery store because of the way people looked at him. What person wouldn't be overwhelmed with empathy and compassion, but what would you do? Most people would feel sorry for that man but they would move on with their day.
Satoshi Sugie isn't like most people. A former engineer at Nissan, he was the one who met that man in the wheelchair. Overwhelmed with a sense of duty, he developed a mobility device that would could possibly remove the negative stigma that disabled people are so used to. With the help of his two friends, Junpei Naito, a product engineer with Sony, and Muneaki Fukuoka, an engineer with Olympus. The three came up with WHILL. It's a chair with wheels but don't call it a "wheelchair". The company says they build "omnidirectional four-wheeled-drive mobility device". Their WHILL Model A is also not considered to be a medical device and has not been submitted to the FDA for review or clearance, but this hasn't stopped the investors. WHILL has already raised over $12.85 million in funding.
Although not covered by insurance, the company has taken about 50 preorders at a price of $9,500 per chair. Their Model A chair can reach speeds of up to 5.5 miles per hour and travel up to 12 miles per battery charge. The four-wheel drive enables the device to maneuver rough terrain that most other wheelchairs couldn't. What makes WHILL so unique are the front wheels, which WHILL calls "omni-wheels" or "gliding wheels". The front wheels are comprised of a main wheel, which are wrapped by 24 small tires that turn independently, and gives the device a tight turning radius by being able to glide sideways.
While the Model Type-A is considered to be a non-medical device (which means it is not FDA-cleared), WHILL plans to have their future models cleared as medical devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be eligible for insurance coverage, such as Medicare/Medicaid. To increase production, the company is currently talking with their original equipment manufacturers in Mexico and Taiwan. They've also added a smart phone app that lets you remote control your WHILL.
So the question is will people shell out close to 5 figures for a mobility device? Bill Meehan loves the portability of the EZ Lite Cruiser, but also has a WHILL. He had told us about his recent interview with CNN to discuss his WHILL.