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Handsfree Off-Road Wheelchair (omeotechnology.com)
41 points by chris1993 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

This is certainly cool tech, but I don't think they'll sell many of these.

I worked on advanced mobility products for over 15 years and with hundreds of quadriplegic folks in wheelchairs and listened to all of them.

Over those years I saw a lot of very cool products designed for them that they didn't want, need, or have any interest in using.

A wheelchair that goes off road is one of them. Most of those folks have no interest at all in that, and most will tell you, if you get to know them well enough, they're afraid of it.

There's good reasons for that too. We're talking about people that cannot pick up a sandwich or open a can of soda. They cannot lean back and forth much, or turn side to side. They don't have the muscle or muscle control to handle the shocks of bumps of going off pavement.

Now I have met some paraplegics that would love those. Not many, but a few. They were all "Type A" personalities who loved risky behaviors even after braking their backs.

Quadriplegic here, I would absolutely love one of these wheelchairs as I live in the countryside in the UK and I have to stay on the roads. Being able to wander across the desire lines the runaround the Moors would be absolutely wonderful, if this thing actually works as advertised I would 1000% want one. Unfortunately they look prohibitively expensive for normal people.

(Ahhhh, anecdata. It really is the best kind of data!)

You do make a very good point however that there is a lot of tabletop engineering that goes on by able-bodied engineers deciding what quadriplegics want, they invariably get it wrong. Not because they are bad people but because they are not quadriplegic and they are not exposed to quadriplegic beta testers for their products, which is something I try hard to help companies to do.

I also don't think I have a type A personality, I think I just have a desire to go outside and go for a walk with my partner. There really is a somewhat pernicious meme around disability that people that want to do something outside of the norm have to have a type A personality, are difficult or are in some way not like those other disabled people. I'm not sure how to unpack it but it seems to be if you are quiet and sit in your wheelchair not disturbing anyone then you are the right kind of disabled person, the only other acceptable kind of disabled people in wheelchairs are either the classic "Stephen Hawking" or the Paralympian. For everybody else there is a total lack of expectation.

Obviously I'm not ascribing any of these opinions to you, and to be honest seeing that you noticed that there are tons of products designed for quadriplegics that are of absolutely no use puts you way above the pack in the insight stakes.

This was meant to be an opposing point of view, please take it in that they and not as me trolling you. I really did think you had a good point! I would be happy to continue the conversation as well.

I'm a quadriplegic public speaker, pretend grown-up, practising hacker… AMA! :-)

I am so glad you chimed in. I had several friends in chairs that I went hiking with in parks and fishing with around Los Angeles and other places I've lived.

Most of the people I worked with were straight out of rehab, and I got to work with many of them for years after.

Most all got stronger and increased their mobility afterwards and being able to drive somewhere and get around in their chairs, and get a job, really helped normalize their lives.

They were often more willing to try something new than those who kind of holed up.

I can say with certainty that most were not "Type A", but those I recall that were would generally not be at all apprehensive about learning to drive the vehicles we modified for them. They wanted to go do burnouts as soon as they could :D

It's funny to hear you say this and I certainly respect your experience in this area.

But when my brother in law was coming to the end of his life with motor neuron disease, on one day we got him down to the grass by the beach with his new electric wheelchair. He had very little movement left in his body, but just enough in his fingers to control (sort of) the wheelchair.

I will never forget the way that as soon as he was lowered onto the grass he hit the (throttle?) and took off. He roared around, spinning his wheels, looking like he was basking in the joy of it.

He wasn't quite the type A you describe, a pretty sensible man, but watching him really changed my viewpoint on accessibility, and when we recently built a house it was a top priority to make the whole house and section wheelchair friendly.

I guess everyone's different, and again, I respect your viewpoint, and about your work on these products.

Good for him!

I had friends in chairs who'd go to parks and go fishing with me. I really admired their spirit and tenacity. They were truly exceptional.

I also knew people with disabilities who could walk, but very seldom did because they were embarrassed by how they looked doing it. And on the other hand I knew those who walked everywhere and refused to use a chair despite knowing that people stared at them when they did. I admired them too. They were tough as can be.

After working with so many disabled people I can tell you that attitude had everything to do with how well they rehabbed and moved on in life.

One of the greatest joys of doing that job was convincing them they could drive our vehicles. They came in thinking "there's no way I can do this" and left with such a sense of achievement and excitement of using their new mobility.

And, really, well earned pride that they had come so far. That kind of rehab is a really tough row to hoe.

I think you might be overemphasizing "off road." This doesn't look like the wheelchair version of a quadbike. It looks more like a wheelchair that can handle backyards, beaches and broken footpaths.

Besides that, handsfree control sounds nice. You don't need hands to operate legs and the wheelchairs do legs' job.

>It looks more like a wheelchair that can handle backyards, beaches and broken footpaths.

It won't handle them very well until at least a month or so from now when "mud season" is over in the parts of the world that have a winter in which the ground freezes. That rim and tire package is worlds better than a normal wheelchair but still not very good for not sinking in the soft stuff.

Even worse are 'mobility schooters'. Tiny wheels, many of them are front wheel drive, they get stuck very easily when tehy are not on a hard surface.

"I think you might be overemphasizing "off road.""

I'm pretty sure that term was used by the developers of this chair, so I'll defer to their definition of that, but I think you are unaware of what quadriplegics consider "off road" and "beaches and broken footpaths" qualify for them.

They have a much different view of these kinds of adaptive devices, which is why I mentioned I had "listened" to a lot of them.

For you and I, leaning forward and back, or side to side, isn't even given a thought. They simply cannot do that like us, they have very limited upper body muscle control and pretty much no lower body muscle control

We grab that joystick and control it with our hand and fingers. They have very little dexterity in their hands and arms. They move their hand and arm mostly with their upper body to position it on the joystick, and move the joystick with very subtle shifts in the upper body and arm, and almost not at all with their fingers.

So, really, this chair requires a greater deal of upper body control to operate. I can imagine many quads could learn how to control it with practice, but my experience is it's unlikely they'd feel as safe in it first shot out of the box.

Another, very important, aspect we (the fully able bodied) have to consider is that most quads have suffered a severe accident of some kind that put them in a chair. That's some traumatic stuff to go through. After that they've spent a good deal of time in rehab just to get to the point where they can use a powered wheelchair.

After going through all that telling them "Hey, you can zoom around on footpaths and the beach in this!" makes them cringe.

It should be noted that the developers are in New Zealand, a notorious country for those who love such risky (outdoor) behaviours. It is a niche market as you say, but I'll not be surprised that they'll sell enough to cover costs. Also, I can't imagine it would be so they can go off-road alone: everyone knows to take a buddy.

> Now I have met some paraplegics that would love those.

Taking a quick look through their site, it looks like their product is aimed squarely at paraplegics who still have a lot of control over their torso and hips. I'd guess their target market is more the wheelchair basketball crowd than the steers-by-breathing-into-a-straw crowd.

I'm not saying that you're wrong about them not selling that many of these but I don't agree that the only people who would be interested in them are "Type A" personalities.

This morning on my way to work the driver of the bus I was in stopped at traffic lights (that were green) to help a person with an electric wheelchair across the road. The reason he needed help was because he was stuck in a bank of snow that a snow plow had pushed at the side of the road.

That bus driver is awesome!

You can get a joystick controlled chair that can go off road, and put knobby tires on most chairs. It's a matter of money and mess for those who are in chairs.


In this case it has to do with the design of the chair.

It's a pretty big leap to assume this design an improvement in how a chair is controlled, especially by a quadriplegic.

It would be a matter of preference for most paraplegics, but that's generally a matter of convenience. From that point of view I don't think this is an improvement at all over a joystick.

Joysticks are very intuitive and require almost no effort. Leaning back and forth and side to side is not so intuitive and requires a lot more effort.

One thing this chair does offer is "fun". I think it's cool as can be and I'd love to take it for a spin.

My wife, who is a wheelchair user, and I tried it a couple years back (when it was still named Ogo). She said that it was really nice to be hand free and while the prototype was still rough, she really liked it.

Plus the inventor is super nice and does this for all the right reasons.

We wrote a small review about it back then : https://www.iwheeltravel.com/en/ogo-wheelchair-new-zealand/

Cool. It looked like a good idea and I'm glad it's usable in practice. We need more innovations like this in society.

Instead of a wheelchair try a trackchair http://actiontrackchair.com/. When you are off road wheels are not the best idea.

I'm friends with the inventors son who was paralyzed some years back. Designing something so that he could do all the outdoor activities he enjoyed before the accident was their goal. I have been watching their iterations for years, and seen pictures of him doing more and more things that I'd consider normal. (our lives moved in different directions so we haven't got together)

On a completely separate note, why on earth have you used able-bodied people advertise this product?! I mean really, were there no quadriplegic available? My email address is in my bio!


(PS. It looks really cool and I would really like one!)

Note they specifically disclaim this as a medical device at the end.

This isn't a 'wheelchair' as I would understand it.

And the hands free element seems to rely on whole body movement, so wouldn't be of use for people without the use of their muscles.

Probably because medical device classification is expensive and might not allow for "fun" wheelchairs like this one. The upshot is that health insurance probably won't pay for this.

Yes I'm in 2 minds on how to interpret the lack of official certification, For the reasons you describe. Additionally I would guess these would face different laws to wheelchairs, I don't think they'd be allowed on pavements in my country for example, they would basically be classed as scooters / hoverboards.

It’s not that it wouldn’t allow it it would just make it even more expensive due to the certification process, requirements you’ll have to meet.

Insurance wouldn’t pay for this in most cases anyhow so making it even harder to get to market and more expensive is pointless.

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