Unfortunately, recent headlines have not been overly kind to Toyota – usually documenting an airbag or seatbelt shortcoming that triggered a vehicle recall.
And although his DEKA Research company continues to develop solutions on a number of bleeding edge technologies, many people, fairly or not, still primarily associate Dean Kamen with the mixed success of his Segway invention from 2002.
However, recently the two teamed up with what could become a groundbreaking partnership in the development of advanced mobility for those dependent on wheelchairs.
Roughly 16 years ago Kamen unveiled the iBot, a motorized wheelchair with two sets of wheels that rotated in a vertical fashion to help the operator climb or descend stairs or handle a more varied terrain than conventional wheelchairs. The technology was interesting, but carried a hefty price of around $25k – or about 12 times the cost of a more traditional motorized chair.
It simply never gained much commercial acceptance and was out of production by 2009.
Last week Toyota and Kamen announced at the Paralyzed Veterans of America's 70th Annual Convention that they will be partnering to develop and launch a next generation iBot. The partnership will leverage the balancing technology of Kamen and DEKA with Toyota’s vast automotive engineering resources.
Toyota’s background in suspension, load disposition and passenger safety could help counter some of the rigidity problems that initially kept the iBot from greater commercial viability.
Although no timeliness have been announced, this seems like a potential win for all involved. Toyota can get back to proving their engineering prowess, Kamen can overcome any critics of his personal transportation legacy, and those utilizing a wheelchair can gain even greater independence.