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The WHILL turns any wheelchair into an electric vehicle


December 8, 2011

The WHILL on display at the Tokyo Motor Show (Photo: Gizmag)

The WHILL on display at the Tokyo Motor Show (Photo: Gizmag)

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Wheelchair users with full use of their arms generally don't need electric wheelchairs ... but sometimes, especially if those users have long distances to cover, it sure would be nice to have one. Instead of going out and buying themselves a full electric wheelchair, however, those people may soon have the option of using a WHILL. Recently spotted by Gizmag staff at the Tokyo Motor Show, the prototype device clamps onto the wheels of an existing manual wheelchair, temporarily providing it with electric drive.

The WHILL incorporates two circular "hubs" (for lack of a better word) that attach to the outside center of both of the wheelchair's wheels. These hubs are joined by a curved control section, which bridges over the user's waist. The angle of that section can initially be manually adjusted by the user, then locked into place by locking the hubs onto the wheels.

Each of the hubs contains a separate 24-volt motor, powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. These turn the chair's wheels, propelling it up to a top speed of 20 km/h (12.5 mph). The battery reportedly takes two hours to charge, and offers a range of approximately 30 kilometers (19 miles).

Not unlike piloting a Segway, users steer by leaning in the direction that they wish to travel, with a force sensing mechanism in the control section varying the rotational speed of the wheels accordingly.

WHILL the company, which is based in Japan, is now looking for wheelchair users to help field test the device. Those users' feedback will influence the design of the final, commercial product.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I want this. A giant pair of Beats By Dre for a rolling chair.

Brock Scott

Totally impractical! The biggest problem with wheelchair bound folk is ACCESS. Has anyone tried to get that thing through a door? Maybe when it\'s field tested that will be the first aspect in the redesign...but why should it take that to see the obvious?

Neil Larkins

Width knocking down other people, elevators, bathroom use in a hurry- first thoughts. Extra weight on a slant pulling a wheelchair sideways is another. Good to consider wheelchair or vehicle improvements for disabled people, but this sure looks like a disaster to me. I use a wheelchair, and have extremely weak arms. Simple solution for me was to buy a used power chair cheaply (these do not hold value). Now I have choice of either without making my manual wheelchair an oversize paperweight!

Chris Jordan

As a wheelchair user, there is no-way I would put the WHILL on my chair, firstly its huge and in my opinion ugly, looks are important, and why so big?? Not sure if this is going to be successful !!!

David Cabrera

In the right area, this could be good. on something like a park or other area with open pavement type path or something else you could use this to keep up with other walking people and such. Where we live we have golf cart trails that would be perfect for this thing.

Scott Perry

Too bad the critics are so negative. At first glance, there are certainly improvements to be on this prototype. The search to find the right balance between efficiency, performance, ergonomics and design. You have noticed that this model is all aspects of a futuristic technology made "‹"‹in Japan. I, personally, I like. It\'s like the car, there are the cars very traditional, conventional and other others, full of innovation. Of course, the disabled person would like to comment on the use of models. At least in theory, it may appreciate the ability and autonomy of this new material. I think that beyond the choice of design is the overall movement of wheelchairs need to review in its environment, architecture of buildings unsuitable, too small apartment in many countries and cities crowded . It is a comprehensive reflection it will be every day and in the future. However, I commend the work and the intent of the engineering team. Good luck for future success.

Mohamed Bouchebbat

I\'d like to see them branch out with a similar attachment for bicycles. The bulk of the battery could sit under the frame of the bike while the motors powered the wheels.

Gene Jordan

The wheel chair design hasn't changed in 100 years. We need to rethink them. I know this certainly wouldn't help me where I live. Sand and some grass. Even my electric wheelchair can't handle it. Not everyone has sidewalks.

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