Will the Whill Hi-Tech Wheelchair Sell?

A Japanese startup is betting that an aging population of tech savvy first adopters will want their super-wheelchair

3 min read
Will the Whill Hi-Tech Wheelchair Sell?
Whill To Rule: A wheelchair designed with techies in mind can make tight maneuvers.
Photo: Whill

A Japanese startup founded by former automotive engineers wants to turn the wheelchair into an accessory for the tech savvy. Their company, Whill, is building a “personal mobility device” that it says is easier and more comfortable to use than conventional power wheelchairs. Whill’s chair, called the Model A, features an advanced drive system that lets it take tight turns and ride on rough terrain. It also has a minimalist, sleek design that makes it look like it came from a science fiction movie.

The intent is to “create an image that, rather than a chair for the disabled, this is stylish transportation”

This month, Whill plans to start selling the Model A in Japan and the United States (initially only in California, for US $9,500). The company is betting on what might seem like a strange thing: that the global market for wheelchairs will grow at a fast pace, and that users will demand more capable—and better-looking—offerings. Some demographic trends support this: The number of people 65 and older is expected to triple by 2050 to reach 1.5 billion, or about one in every six people on the planet. And the older population is likely to help drive up the number of people with disabilities, which is at 15 percent today, according to the World Health Organization.

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Restoring Hearing With Beams of Light

Gene therapy and optoelectronics could radically upgrade hearing for millions of people

13 min read
A computer graphic shows a gray structure that’s curled like a snail’s shell. A big purple line runs through it. Many clusters of smaller red lines are scattered throughout the curled structure.

Human hearing depends on the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure in the inner ear. A new kind of cochlear implant for people with disabling hearing loss would use beams of light to stimulate the cochlear nerve.

Lakshay Khurana and Daniel Keppeler
Blue

There’s a popular misconception that cochlear implants restore natural hearing. In fact, these marvels of engineering give people a new kind of “electric hearing” that they must learn how to use.

Natural hearing results from vibrations hitting tiny structures called hair cells within the cochlea in the inner ear. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged or dysfunctional parts of the ear and uses electrodes to directly stimulate the cochlear nerve, which sends signals to the brain. When my hearing-impaired patients have their cochlear implants turned on for the first time, they often report that voices sound flat and robotic and that background noises blur together and drown out voices. Although users can have many sessions with technicians to “tune” and adjust their implants’ settings to make sounds more pleasant and helpful, there’s a limit to what can be achieved with today’s technology.

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