Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2021

Although power wheelchairs are intended to help the disabled get around quickly and safely, users of power wheelchairs often sustain injuries from collisions or tipping over.

Of the roughly half of wheelchair users who reported an injury over a three-year period, 87% said it was a tip or fall. Another study found that wheelchair accidents accounted for more than 100,000 ER treatments in 2010 alone.

Country songwriter Barry Dean has a daughter, Katherine, who uses a power wheelchair and continually experiences fear while using it. “She gets one life,” says Barry of his daughter, who has cerebral palsy. “Am I gonna wait till she’s 40 for [her wheelchair] to do things that my bathroom scale or my toaster can do?”

That’s why Barry and his brother, Jered, an engineer, built a new wheelchair technology and a hardware accessory to give wheelchairs smart driving capabilities. It began as a “hobby,” but after research and contact with clinicians, it became a larger project that would eventually lead to forming a company and hiring a team of 11 or 12 full-time employees.

The end result, which launched June 18, is LUCI, a smart software incorporated into a piece of hardware—the LUCI unit—that mounts between the seat and wheels of the chair, to provide stability and sensing capabilities. (LUCI is named after Katherine’s favorite Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”) The tech uses it’s own infrared, ultrasonic, and radar sensors, which help judge distance, obstacles, and other details of the surroundings, to create a smoother riding experience.

It’s like using a car’s power steering versus manual, Barry says; as you navigate, the wheelchair speeds up or slows down according to surroundings and space, which helps avoid collisions, and is more user-friendly than the rigid speed settings on a non-accessorized chair. It’s sensors also don’t allow you to run into anyone, helping a user move smoothly and confidently with a crowd. It also aims to prevent tipping by monitoring ground steepness and avoiding raised platforms like ramps and curbs. But even in the case of a tip-over, the system can alert family members, doctors, or anyone chosen by the user, delivering detailed data on the whereabouts of the individual via text.

For all of us, this story highlights the life-changing possibilities of smart driving technology. It’s also a powerful story in light of this weekend’s Father’s Day. 

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