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Remember the iBot? The stair-climbing wheelchair may make a comeback

The iBot had a lot of people excited when it rolled onto the scene around 16 years ago.

The motorized wheelchair was quite unlike any other, sporting special features that allowed the user to elevate for easier and more natural communication with those walking alongside, and the ability to competently tackle uneven terrain. The multi-wheel machine could even handle steps, offering users a new level of freedom that many had never before experienced.

There was just one snag, though. The cost. The iBot sold for $25,000, a prohibitive price tag that forced production to halt in 2009.deka ibot

But inventor Dean Kamen, who also created the Segway which uses similar balancing technology to the iBot, has never given up on his dream of taking the machine to the mass market. In fact, a just-announced partnership with Japanese car maker Toyota is giving Kamen a second shot at offering the iBot as a viable alternative to the traditional wheelchair and transforming the lives of disabled people around the world.

“I’m happy to tell you that our goal is to bring back the iBot,” Kamen said in a video (above) posted online on Sunday. “We’d like to take everything that was great about the original iBot and then enhance it with 15 years of improvements in technology.”

He said that having seen the freedom, flexibility, and independence that the machine gives users, “we know we have to bring this technology to more people that need it.”

According to Kamen, the partnership came about in part because DEKA – Kamen’s company – and Toyota “share the same vision of making mobility available to people of every kind of ability.”

The deal means DEKA can draw on Toyota’s experience and expertise in mobility technology, while the Japanese company aims to make use of DEKA’s balancing technologies for “medical rehabilitative therapy and potentially other purposes.”

While there are no details regarding availability of the second-generation iBot, or indeed its all-important price tag, receiving support from a giant like Toyota is a significant step that suggests the machine could one day become a realistic possibility for disabled and elderly people searching for a more versatile mode of transport for short-distance travel.

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