Wheelchairs get the Tesla treatment with self-driving technology

·2 min read

Motorized wheelchairs promise greater freedom for people with mobility challenges, and now, with technologies inspired by nascent self-driving cars, they're getting smarter — and safer.

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

Why it matters: A specialized wheelchair can cost as much as a Tesla but has none of its modern technology, putting vulnerable users at risk for collisions and other accidents, like tipping over a curb.

What's happening: A startup formed by two brothers with a personal motivation developed LUCI, a software and hardware platform that introduces smart technology for power wheelchair users.

  • The "smart frame" kit includes multiple sensors — cameras, radar and ultrasonic — along with an ARM processor that acts as the chair's "brain."

  • LUCI can detect pets or a crawling baby, for instance, and automatically stop the chair. It can also stop for uneven pavement or dangerous drop-offs.

  • With built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, users can link their chair to an at-home assistant like Alexa, and also communicate with caregivers.

  • "We’re turning the wheelchair into the edge device, or command module, for these folks," said Jered Dean, LUCI co-founder and chief technology officer.

The backstory: Jered and his brother Barry Dean set out to help Barry's 19-year-old daughter, Katherine, who was born with cerebral palsy and has used a wheelchair her entire life.

  • Their hack of Katherine's chair led to a realization that there is no commercially available smart tech for custom wheelchairs.

  • They figured they could adapt off-the-shelf technology from robotics companies or self-driving cars but found it didn't translate well to wheelchairs.

  • "There are no maps or street signs [as for cars] or geotags [as for robots] in a warehouse," Jered told me. "Everywhere you go in a week, that’s where a wheelchair has to go and it has to work."

  • The pair ended up inventing their own radar and ultrasonic sensors, applying for 19 patents, 10 of which have already been issued.

The bottom line: A motorized wheelchair can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $90,000. For an additional $8,445, LUCI makes it smarter.

More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting