iBOT Discontinued -- Unfortunate for the Disabled but Perhaps a Budding Robotics Opportunity?

As of January 2009, the iBOT powered-wheelchair will be discontinued.  This is unfortunate for the disabled community -- Dean Kamen and the others at DEKA (the same people responsible for the Segway and Luke Arm) developed an amazing robotic wheelchair that was (somewhat) unique it its ability to transition from a statically-stable, 4-wheel configuration to a dynamically-stable, 2-wheel configuration to give occupants added height.   Further, by pivoting pairs of wheels, the wheelchair and occupant were able to dynamically balance while traversing stairs, not to mention the wheelchair's basic ability to traverse (relatively) poor terrain, such as sand and gravel!  All of this was possible due to careful controllers and internal gyros (not entirely dissimilar to a Segway).   Read further for discussion -- specifically about why this loss for the disabled community could be an opportunity in disguise for the robotics community and a big win for Kamen and company.

For those not familiar, the iBOT is pictured below in three "compelling" configurations.

iBOT in 4-wheel, statically stable configuration   iBOT in 2-wheel, dynamically stable configuration  iBOT in dynamically balancing while traversing stairs

On the left, the wheelchair is in its 4-wheeled statically-stable configuration, just like any other powered wheelchair.  In the middle, the wheelchair has transitioned to a 2-wheeled dynamically-stable configuration to provide the occupant with added reach.  On the right is the wheelchair dynamically balancing while traversing stairs.  For the un-initiated, perhaps a video is a little more compelling:

 

 

So... I have always thought that powered wheelchairs had the potential to make great mobile robot base platforms.  They are typically sturdy, well-tested, and designed for prolong (safe) use.  Because of their large market (compared to domestic mobile robots), they also benefit from economy-of-scale in pricing (if one discounts exorbitant healthcare markups in the United States).  Consider that I can walk down to a neighborhood thrift shop and purchase a used run-of-the-mill powered-wheelchair for $40 (I still kind of kick myself for not grabbing one of the three; I haven't yet seen another materialize) .

Anyway, it appears that as of January 2009, Johnson & Johnson's Independence Technology (a DEKA licensee) is  discontinuing production (with service through 2013).  This may be really unfortunate for robotics -- domestic mobile robots are just coming into their own, and a base that could traverse stairs would be a real boon.  I think it would be a shame if DEKA dismisses the iBOT in its entirety -- dare I say a "failure" on Kamen's part.

Curiously, Dean Kamen came and gave a talk at Georgia Tech a year or two ago where someone from our group asked him about the iBOT as a robot platform.  While I cannot recall his exact response, it was something to this effect:

Because of certain FDA certifications / ratings relating to safety, we cannot sell or distribute the iBOT unless you have a prescription and undergo user training.  We really wish we could sell them to roboticists, but unfortunately, that would result in loosing the very costly certification.

Costly FDA certifications, indeed... the iBOT retailed for upward of $25,000 USD.  Now that it is being discontinued as a medical device, perhaps it can be fabricated and sold for the robotics community instead (at reduced prices).  After all, these could be just as useful as the various Segway robotics platforms that DEKA is (gradually) releasing, such as the RMP series of bases (i.e. the RMP 50 Omni pictured below left or the RMP 200 pictured below right).

Segway RMP 50 Omni Mobile Base   Segway RMP 200 Mobile Base   

Thus... we could either see the discontinuation as a lost opportunity (failure on Kamen's part) or as a budding robotics opportunity (win on Kamen's part).  I guess only time will tell.

 

So, while I'm thinking about Kamen's GT visit some time ago, I might as well share one other interesting nugget -- Kamen was asked his opinion regarding dynamically-stable platforms versus statically-stable platforms for mobile manipulation.  Curiously, he share's my (oft mentioned) view that the few added benefits of dynamically-stable platforms (form factor, instantaneous forces, etc) cannot match the benefits of statically-stable platforms (reduced complexity in controllers, behaviors, perception, etc).  Perhaps this (partially) vindicates my opinions about having a nice support polygon -- the inventor of the Segway does not believe in dynamically stable mobile manipulators!

 

 

Comments

Has any company said they would sell the ibot, now that JNJ drop it 10 months ago?  I wish I bought one last year!  Thank you in advance for your reply. Andrew
—Andrew

Hey Andrew,

I haven't heard any more news about iBot's discontinuation.  I'll be sure to let you know if / when I hear anything new.

—Travis Deyle
Its a shame they discontinued it i know someone who has one and they rely on it for doing pretty much everything.
—Anonymous

I've had a beer with Dean Kamen and he is a human genius...a hero who cares about others.  He is amazing and always looks at the "greater good" for all.  His brains and character will insure that he will be etched in history long after he is gone.  I hope bureaucracy will never scare him away from creating his awesome inventions.

 

—FIRST participant
Oh goodness, my husband was shot in Viet Nam and has been in a wheelchair since he was 20 years old.  He is now 61.  We had been saving our money to purchase an IBOT for him but I guess this is not going to happen now with them discontinuing the sale of IBOT.  It breaks my heart.  We had such hopes for him to be able to get around and not be limited by his wheelchair.  It's such a shame.  He basically gave so much for all of us to enjoy the freedom we do and he's left limited by this primative, manual wheelchair he uses.  How wonderful it would have been for him to be able to go out into the grassy back yard and toss a ball with out adopted 7 year old son!  People who walk take it for granet all the hardships wheelchair bound people enfure.  After he gave his back and legs, his left eye and the upper lobe of his right lung for our freedom, it looks like the government would do more to help assist these veterans in being as independent and make the remainder of their lives easier for them.  I don't think Americans encourage our government to do more for our injured vetrans or vetrans in general.  How can we stand ourselves?  Allowing young men to not only be killed but live with such hardships and not provide the very best of everything to make their lives as comfortable as possible?  Such a shame.  This IBOT would have given him, pretty much his life back.  He could do things he never dreamed he could do again and now, even that is taken away from him.  WHY??  Why doesn't someone of means so something about things like this?  Does anyone care?
—Anonymous
I have an iBot for sale, primarily for parts, as I believe the wheelchair is still FDA regulated, and requires special fitting and adjustment, as well as user training. email me at redmonne@gmail.com for additional information.
—Nancy R.

Hi I am intrested in your Ibot and I have tried emailing you I will email again in a while if I get no reply  Glenn

—glenn
I don't see why they would quit making such a great product that would help people have some independance!!! My son has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy, and is not yet in a Wheel chair, but was hopeful that when and If he ever has to use a wheelchair something like this would be available!  Tonia Waid
—Tonia Waid
My wife has an iBot that she used to live life again using it to primarily get around our farm due being completely disabled.  That chair was used less than her smaller house chair because she herself is tiny. She's now been walking with a cane for a year now & we are interested in selling her iBot to someone who needs it. It has very low mileage, as she also had a "housechair," and it comes with 8 extra tires & tubes, (bought when we heard they were going out of business) & has the automotive seat, which she loved & is quite stylish. The Manual & Service records are included. Because this was a prescription device I am selling it for parts-although the last time my wife used it, the iBot worked well & sure seems to have many more miles to give to another disabled person the independence they all wish for & deserve. Please email for more info & photos.
—Jim

I would love an ibot... unfortunately I am totally dependant on UK state benefits as my husband had to leave his employment to become my full time Carer. An I bot would help me access the platform at my church to enable me to take part in services instead of me having to sit blocking the aisle at the foot of the 2 very deep stairs. There is very limited access for a ramp to be used. 

Also an ibot would be perfect for the not so well ramped pavements in the UK! and I could also actually go shopping with my 4 daughters! what a delightful dream this would be!

It is a total waste of fantastic technology for people like me whose lives would be totally transformed with an ibot! 

—Shelley
WOULD BE INTERESTED IN UNIT FOR MY DAUGHTER IF YOU HAVE PHOTOS AND WHAT THE PRICE WOULD BE
—Anonymous
Jim, Please contact me regarding your wife's ibot. I am 44yrs old and have be battling Limb-Girdle Muscular Dystrophy since being diagnosed at the age of 12. This is something that would continue my independence that I have so cherished. Please email me (bryan.stubenrauch@comcast.net) with your contact information/photos etc. Thank you! Bryan
—Bryan

Oh goodness, my husband was shot in Viet Nam and has been in a wheelchair since he was 20 years old.  He is now 61.  We had been saving our money to purchase an IBOT for him but I guess this is not going to happen now with them discontinuing the sale of IBOT.  It breaks my heart.  We had such hopes for him to be able to get around and not be limited by his wheelchair.  It's such a shame.  He basically gave so much for all of us to enjoy the freedom we do and he's left limited by this primative, manual wheelchair he uses.  How wonderful it would have been for him to be able to go out into the grassy back yard and toss a ball with out adopted 7 year old son!  People who walk take it for granet all the hardships wheelchair bound people enfure.  After he gave his back and legs, his left eye and the upper lobe of his right lung for our freedom, it looks like the government would do more to help assist these veterans in being as independent and make the remainder of their lives easier for them.  I don't think Americans encourage our government to do more for our injured vetrans or vetrans in general.  How can we stand ourselves?  Allowing young men to not only be killed but live with such hardships and not provide the very best of everything to make their lives as comfortable as possible?  Such a shame.  This IBOT would have given him, pretty much his life back.  He could do things he never dreamed he could do again and now, even that is taken away from him.  WHY??  Why doesn't someone of means so something about things like this?  Does anyone care?

—Sohail ahmed shaheen

I have had my IBOT for 5 years.  wow how time flies.  It is the best chair I have been in in the 26 years of my paralysis.  I am very upset that Johnson and Johnson failed to continue this chair, but as you say perhaps someone can build a better one.  It has been Transformational for me a 43 year old who has been paralyzed since he was 18.  No more bounderies.  I hope and pray someone will continue this or develop and better more cost effective one.

 I always wanted a Delorean.  Now I have one, called IBOT.  The batteries are the biggest expense. 1100+ every year or so.

—Mike

I want to preach all the physically disabled that there will be a great advanced WheelChair soon.

I've invented a new innovative mechanism that will enable them to easily up/down different stairs and move anywhere without any help from anyone.

I already design and implement a simple prototype of it, but it needs more support to be implemented in a fully shape.

It will be easy to enter the market with it in less than 2 years, and its price will be very competitive to other normal electric wheelchairs.

m.nour@ieee.org

+0020101278769

—M. Nour

hola soy de chile y me gustaria comprar esta silla para mi hijo de 12 años si fuera posible que me indiquen como lo puedo hacer y cuanto es lo que cuesta esta silla seria fabuloso espero respuesta gracias de ante mano.

 

—elizabeth cifuentes jimnenez
could some one help me find a ibot wheel chair i sure need one it would help me out good i would get out more and may be have some fun can some please help me!!!!! chris
—CHRIS

We started some years ago flying a 1965 Vietnam-era Huey helicopter with veterans aboard to schools to teach civics. Later, we donated our Huey 091 to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Price of Freedom Exhibit, as the largest artifact of the Viet Nam War, as a tribute to the men and women who fought in Viet Nam and later wars (www.americashuey.com).

Next, we took upon a new mission - helping wounded disabled, mostly post- 9/11, veterans. After being persuaded by the likes of Tony Orlando and Mary Eisenhower, we amended our mission statement to include helping veterans from earlier wars (www.huey091foundation.org).

How do we help them? That's simple. We provided them with an iBOT(r) Mobility System ("iBOT") which is the only wheel chair that brings a person in a seated position up to eye level with a standing adult, using the same fundamental balance technology that Dean Kamen later would incorporate into the more commonly used Segway. The iBOT, taking advantage of this balancing technology and other advanced technologies, allows a user to climb curbs and flights of stairs without the assistance of others, bringing a freedom and restoration of capability not possible with other mobility systems.

The iBOT was brought to market through a partnership between Johnson & Johnson ("J&J") and Dean's company DEKA. Through this partnership, the launch of the iBOT brought this life-changing technology to wheelchair users throughout the US and Europe. When we became aware of the benefits of the iBOT, we made it a focus of our efforts to help our wounded veterans and have been able to change the lives of dozens of veterans by providing iBOTs to them.

Unfortunately, a challenging reimbursement environment has inhibited broad acceptance of the iBOT. In particular, the Center for Medicare Services determined that the innovative features of the iBOT - for example, the ability to climb stairs and raise the user to eye level - are not "medical necessities" and therefore not entitled to additional reimbursement. Despite significant efforts, J&J did not feel able to continue production of the iBOT in this reimbursement environment. J&J, to their significant credit, is supporting the current iBOT owners until 2014 (five years after production ceased). J&J is rare in its dedication to their biomedical customers. The end of this support is rapidly approaching, however, and with that support ending the current iBOT users will be faced with a transition back to a traditional wheelchair and our Foundation will not be able to provide this amazing technology to additional (and future) disabled veterans.

The good news here is that it seems J&J would love to see Dean Kamen's iBOT back in production and gave all rights back to DEKA. Now, we are trying to revive the manufacture of the iBOT with an all veteran run (perhaps veteran owned) organization.

Gary Sinise, star of "Forest Gump" and "CSI New York", a strong supporter of our military and often overseas entertainer of our troops with his Lt. Dan Band (www.ltdanband.com) has also been a very vocal supporter of our disabled veteran high-tech mobility, and in particular our iBOT efforts, as evidenced in part by the PSA Gary helped us with as can be seen both on our website's home page (www.huey091foundation.org) and on YouTube (www.youtube.com/user/huey091).

As a Viet Nam veteran, I am asking you only to take five minutes to view the attached and if you like what you see, contact us a see how you might be able to support our effort.

I have an IBOT for sale. The price when we bought the chair was $26,000 dollars. I live in Indiana. Unfortunately, my husband who was a quadriplegic passed away on April 29th 2011. The wheelchair was a dream come true for us. The IBOT gave him so much more freedom and independence. I am so grateful he had that chair. The purchaser would need to pay the shipping fees. Please contact me, if you are interested in buying the wheelchair. Thank you, Carissa

—Carissa

Hello Charles,

I am an Independence Technology iBOT 4000 Mobility Systen user and I accidentally stumbled onto this website.  I like many other iBOT user was shocked when I found out that the iBOT was going to be discontinued.  I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and have been able to be very independent due to the iBOT.  I am the type of person that does not give up easily and think that the impossible is possible.  I went to the website (www.huey091foundation.org) and saw that on the homepage that is a statement that says the Huey 091 Foundation is trying to get the iBOT to start being manufactured again.  I have thought about that idea before and was interested in finding out if you are making any progress.  I am currently getting ready by writing a letter to Johnson and Johnson to get information about who I should talk to in order to start trying to get the iBOT to be manufactured again.  I am thinking that maybe we could team up and start a petition and get all the current and recent iBOT user to sign it.  I am willing to work very hard to accomplish what your foundation and many other people are probably trying at this moment to get the iBOT to be manufactured again.   

—Joseph Krebs

Hi

I am intersted in your ibot 4000.  How much do you want for it?  Do you have any spares?

Reagrds

—Peter

 B ecause the government consideres veterans a liability. who knows better (other than the ones who are behind thescenes calling the shots)than the people who were having to follow orders  of their superiors whether or not it was the right thing to do, they had to.  The government doesnt want them to extend their lives. their usefullness to them has expired. I am single and never married so I do not know 1st hand how you must feel. My 13yr old son is in wheelchair so that I do have personal knowledge of. The U.S gov has all the resources you could imagine so the question is ? How can they sleep at night? Look their own children in the eye? Their parents? How do they think they are gonn get away with this when it comes time for their eternal judgement? I heard the patent was bought out by us just to throw away and it looks to be so since by now nothing else has been produced.  Until now I am so excited and cried the whole time and each time i watch the presentation for TECH ROBOTIC MOBILAZION DEVICE. I am scared to find out price but it finally deals with some of the severe problems associated with being in a sitting position for well I guess their life. Non-ambulatory people need to stand at least an hour a day for over all health. it is the reason why so many deal with bladder and bowel control and brain function because the flow of oxygen is not equel  when you are comparing large amounts of time sitting to standing. A nd bed sore the list is too big but those are some of the biggies. I honor your husband and yourself no matter what my feelings are of our souless government entities. I think people who are in the branch of government concerning war should not be able to bei their positions unless at least one of their children are in the service and i dont mean in a cushy job. If their children were right next to your husband  there would be a lot more peace time. thank you and bless you

                                                                                                                   libby 

—libby

Hello Jim, Is it still for sale?

—Anonymous

Ibot for sale. Chair in very good condition. Ibot used for special occasions only. Please email me if you are interested. Chair will go to to the best offer. Thank you.

[ Added by Travis:  Carissa, your comment's email address is not shown publicly as it's used as an anti-spam measure.  If you'd like people to contact you, please add your email in the comment (so they don't contact me asking for it). :-)  Since this was clearly your intent... I'm adding your email here:  cjgarcia[at]usermail.com ]

—Carissa Garcia

Regarding the article stating that this is considered a failure on Dean's part, Please read his letter below.

http://www.huey091foundation.org/iBOT/LetterfromDeanKamen.aspx

Governmental Red Tape is what hindered the reimbursement process, as it was not considered a "Medical Necessity".

—Anonymous

I have an Ibot for sale. I have used it a total of fifty times. Let me know.

—Ben

Hi, I noticed your post from back in 2011 and just thought I would check and see if by chance you still had the IBOT, possibly for sale or knew of someone who did, thanks so much. Lester Dean

—Lester

Hello, I am interested in your IBOT for my brother, if it is still for sale, I would be curious as to price and pictures, thanks so much!

—Lester

Hello, I am interested in your IBOT for my sister she is 15 years old , if it is still for sale, I would be know the  price and pictures, thanks so much!

my email is lolomurad81@hotmail.com

 

please i need it as soon as possible

—lolo

Hello my name is Joseph Pierce and I have Spastic Cerebral Palsy. I would love to buy an IBOT from someone who has one that is in good or great condition. I am single and am living on my own with no support from my parents. PlEASE email me ASAP if anyone still has one. Thank you so much, this chair would make my life so much easier :) My email is:  pierce.joseph8@gmail.com

—Joseph Pierce

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