Wheelchair form and function rolled to new heights at this year’s International Robotics Exhibition in Tokyo, where the Japanese-based company Nano Optonics Energy introduced two new models of a caterpillar track wheelchair that add style to every mile for wheelchair users.
The line of chairs is called UNiMO, or Unique Mobility, and the leading-edge, micro electric vehicle (EV) drivetrain itself, which powers the chairs, is going to be provided to third-party manufacturers seeking to create their own micro EVs from the technology.
At $18,000, the higher priced of the two wheelchairs is called the UNiMO Grace, and it’s something of a sports car for wheelchair users. Described as having “Apple-esque” lines, the Grace is quite literally an easy chair on caterpillar tracks, along with many digital features, including an embedded USB port for powering or charging a smartphone or tablet. It comes in black, white, or brushed aluminum models, has the capability to tilt the seat up to 30 degrees to aid in getting into and out of the chair independently, and it sports a lockable trunk.
For the more economy-minded consumer, Nano offers the UNiMO Adventure at $10,000. This chair is driven by the same caterpillar track micro EV drivetrain, but because it’s just slightly lighter both in physical weight and features, it offers marginally better performance from the drive.
This particular model is designed to be a workhorse, without luxury side panels to get scratched or the lower ground clearance of the more expensive Grace. While the Grace might be optimal for moving around the home or shopping mall, the Adventure is better suited for general outdoors mobility and overall functionality.
Since both models use the same motor and drive system, both sport the same 3.7 mph top speed, both are able to navigate open ground, lawn, snow, mud, go up and down curbs, or even a sandy beach. Both make it easier to handle steep hills, cobblestone, and even getting on and off of trains, as well as handling those minor bumps and cracks that can cause such a headache for wheelchair users.
These two models have regenerative braking, and their lithium ion battery system is good for approximately 12 miles of travel. The narrow width and tight turning radius (the UNiMO can turn a full 180 degrees while remaining within its own footprint) mean that navigating narrow aisles while shopping at the mall or grocery store, or maneuvering in elevators will no longer be as much of a problem.
While not the first or highest-end version of a caterpillar-driven wheelchair (the Ziesel came before), this particular personal mobility option costs far less than its higher-end counterpart, and they’re both now available for sale. This development could herald a new era in personal mobility, especially for the more cost-minded consumer. Watch this demonstration of the UNiMO Grace from Japan. Do either of these new wheelchair technology wonders have your seal of approval?