Wheelchair update, and RANT

Well, my dander done just got riled up.

First off, a positive.  A huge shoutout to Jack and Andrea Z, and Henry, and Mr. Z, for doing this project.

If you remember, Jack has a shop where he works on cars, and offered to help me in my quest for sidewalk domination.  Since then, despite being a loving husband and father (thank you Andrea!), he’s taken the chair apart, proposed several improvements and upgrades, and kept my feet to the fire on the schedule of this thing.  I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve been too focused on Research and Marketing and not enough on procurement and development!!  But I’d like to share some pictures with you all of where we are now.image001IMG_2832IMG_2833

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Pretty cool, yeah?  I just bought the tires and motors so soonish there might be a base.  Working on LiPo batteries and electronics and the seating brackets and whatnot.

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LiPo battery mockup from WheelchairDriver website

It’s already looking like a legit prototype and we have Jack and the sponsors to thank for it so far!!

But, today while we were at the tech clinic a great injustice was raised to me.  So, the cost of eyegaze technology is expensive.  The coding, the cameras, the hardware, I get why it’s expensive and won’t get cheaper until the tech gets more mainstream.  We know how it works.

No, the great injustice was raised to me on how much they charge for a “rehab” power chair with “all the bells and whistles”.

Those “bells and whistles” include tilt-in-place and reclining seats, maybe adjustable footrests, maybe a bracket for holding an oxygen tank… and the really high-end ones lift you up so you are sitting eye level with your companions and your self-esteem doesn’t suffer.  Pretty cool, requires a couple motor/actuators and moving metal brackets and hinges, stuff we’ve got on wall-mounted TVs.  You know how much they charge for that?  $30,000-$40,000.

$30,000-$40,000.

Let me repeat that.  $30,000-$40,000.

Are you kidding me?

FOR WHAT?!?!

Literally, for what?  They use tiny foam filled tires that get stuck in the grass, motors that can’t go faster than 4mph, much less make it up a hill (Rocinante, anyone?) batteries that weigh total of 100lbs with 6 mile range and a general lifespan of a year, and oh, the bells and whistles I just mentioned.

Let’s do a comparison of what costs $30k.

And Audi 2018 A3 Sedan. Starting at $31,950.  Navigation, phone integration, back up camera.  Same price.  I’m sorry, it’s a luxury car.

“But Joe, it’s apples to oranges!”  I’m linking here THIS ARTICLE which breaks down the justification of why it costs so much.  The guy makes a good argument…

Except he’s wrong.  The mechanics of lift and tilt is cheap and is mass produced or even doable at home.  The cost of fabricating steel is even cheaper.  The cost of buying ready-made components is cheap.  What the patient needs custom is seat size, headrests, special butt cushions to avoid sores.  Everything else is not custom.  And to claim it is as an excuse to charge that much is criminal.  I’m sorry, the chair in question doesn’t have eyegaze technology to help me drive!!  It doesn’t have phone integration.  It sure as hell doesn’t self-drive like a Tesla.  And it uses Lead batteries!  IT DOESN’T EVEN HAVE SPINNER RIMS!  But apparently, it’s got bells.  AND whistles!

Those bells and whistles they include… holy cow.

And I’m livid.  If an Audi, a luxury car, can be sold for the same price after years and years of research and design and crash tests and tech advancements, I expect the tech to be just as advanced as that automobile.

Audi, if you are listening, please sponsor my chair.  Brand it with the 4 rings.  Make it yours and sell it. (Hire me for ideas). At the prices the big wheelchair makers list, all you have to do is add a couple more “bells and whistles” and you’ll make a FORTUNE!  I’m serious.  Hire me to help you make money!!!

I just want you to look at this:

Audi-A3-_A3_sedan_DIo
A3 interior.  It’s got a radio, and A/C
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High-end Permobil.  it has tilt/recline…but no radio or A/C

So, what are we to do?  On the one hand, eyegaze tech is revolutionizing how we disabled can communicate.  On the other, we are getting FLEECED by the wheelchair companies.

Consider this as well: insurance won’t pay for a wheelchair accessible vehicle.  So the 250lb chair now has to take me places… but oh wait, it’s so heavy it gets stuck, and has minimal range!!!  So, $30k for a chair, another $30k out of my own pocket for a wheelchair van.

This just is encouraging me to keep working on the chair, to show that a higher end chair can be built on the cheap and still be high quality.  And even have bells… maybe whistles… and not be a fortune.  A big company would help, but we can do it on our own too!

Man, I’m vexed.

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