Innovations: Upright Ride

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News December 2016

New, upright, self-stabilizing wheelchair unveiled at a medical conference in Germany

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Israeli technology startup UPnRIDE Robotics launched an innovative upright, self-stabilizing wheelchair at a medical conference in Germany in October, and the company hopes the device will hit the market next year.

Before then, UPnRIDE needs to pass two clinical trials, one with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in New York, to help it get regulatory approval and ensure health insurance companies can assist customers with the hefty price tag.

Ability To Stand

The company was founded by Amit Goffer, 63, who created a robotic exoskeleton at his previous venture, ReWalk Robotics, that helps people paralyzed from the waist down to walk.

But Goffer, who has used a wheelchair since an all-terrain vehicle accident in 1997, has never used his first invention because his injuries left him with limited function in his arms.

After his injury, Goffer became increasingly dissatisfied with what the market had to offer, so the electrical engineer got to work on his
latest invention.

“The UPnRIDE device, the whole idea is that you can use it outdoors as well as indoors and in a safe manner because it automatically balances you and stabilizes you,” Goffer says. “The concept is new because you don’t see any disabled person rolling outside in a standing position, so this is a breakthrough in the industry of wheelchair manufacturing. I’m sure that others will follow.”

With his new four-wheel device, which uses a gyroscope similar to that in a two-wheeled Segway and self-stabilizing software, Goffer can maneuver upright over uneven urban terrain and have conversations at eye level with other people who are standing. The chair goes from a seated to standing position with the push of a button.

“The dignity, self-esteem ... to feel like part of society again, the core of society, not the fringe of society — the psychological effect is dramatic,” Goffer says. “I was able to do things with my colleagues, like standing and drinking coffee with them. It sounds very trivial for any person, I mean normal person, an able-bodied person, but for me it was like an experience out of this world, being able to stand.”

Steady On Sloped Ground

For people with serious spinal-cord injuries, the act of standing helps stave off cardiovascular, respiratory and other problems that can arise, says Gabi Zeilig, director of the neurological rehabilitation department at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center.

“The (UPnRIDE) idea is fascinating,” he says. “There are devices today to move from one place to another but for short distances and never on a sloped ground.”

Zeilig was scheduled to run a clinical trial of the product, while the second study will be the one with the VA in New York, says UPnRIDE Chief Executive Oren Tamari.

Tamari says the key function was UPnRIDE’s ability to adjust and stabilize itself, so no matter what surface angle the device was on, the user would always be upright, maintaining a steady center of gravity and minimizing the risk of falling over.

About 1% of the population uses a wheelchair, Tamari says, but only 10% of that group has the sufficient upper-body function to use the ReWalk exoskeleton, so UPnRIDE targets the rest.

High-end wheelchairs cost between $15,000-$50,000, Tamari says, and “our target is to be somewhere in the middle.”

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