The Whill wheelchair that premiered at last week's Consumer Electronics Show looks like it has the right stuff. Great design featuring a tight turning radius, smooth easy-to-clean surfaces and easy on/off transfer makes it an enticing product. Yet, it stops short of offering the feature that would most benefit thousands of frail older adults who reside in institutional settings (i.e. assisted living or skilled nursing). Let me explain.
Ask any assisted living (ALF) or skilled nursing (SNF) administrator how many times they have prevented a resident from using an electric wheelchair inside the facility. The administrator will probably respond by saying more times than they can remember. They do this because often ALF and SNF residents lack the capacity to avoid hitting others (and people) when operating the device inside the closed confines of the facility. Unfortunately, many older adults who safely relied on electric wheelchairs for many years find that as they age, their ability to use the device safely declines due to declines in physical functioning (e.g. poorer depth perception, reduced fine motor control, etc.)
Without built-in sensors that would automatically prevent the driver of a Whill from unintentionally bumping into others (and into furniture and equipment) while safely (and stylishly) transporting them, I'm afraid the Whill offers very little to the older adults who would most benefit from the device.
Why was this technology not incorporated into this device? Come on you twenty-something tech wizards! Ask you grandparents about what aging it all about. What do you think? Learn more on Twitter @aginginchicago