Whill’s 4WD Model M makes campgrounds and parks wheelchair-accessible

whill model m 4wd wheelchair
All-wheel drive or four-wheel drive takes cars and trucks onto terrain untouchable by their two-wheel-drive counterparts, and Japanese personal mobility startup Whill injects that concept into its high-tech wheelchairs. Whill says that its new Model M can even venture off road onto dirt roads and gravel trails, all the way to the campground.

Thanks to a 3-inch ground clearance and a 4WD system that links the front and back wheels, the Model M can move on uneven terrain and even on low-traction surfaces, such as light snow. Pulleys that share the driving power enable the wheelchair to still move forward (and backward) even if one of the wheels is off the ground.


Those who are adventurous can take the Model M to places previously impossible, but officially Whill defers to the National Park Service to define the outdoor spots that are accessible. The Model M’s range should also be enough for all but the longest of walks and hikes — up to 15 miles on a full charge of its dual 12V, 50Ah sealed lead acid batteries.

Whill hit the U.S. market in 2014 with a successful Kickstarter campaign that helped to launch the Model A, which brought innovations such as remote control via a smartphone app that allows the user to operate the personal mobility device without sitting on it. In fact, the Model A’s futuristic design was so visually appealing that the filmmakers behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice approached Whill to feature it in the movie.

Unlike the Model A, the Model M includes medical necessities such as arm supports, pressure relief handles, and different back support options, which also means it is now classified by the FDA as a medical device prescribable by doctors.

“FDA clearance of Model M represents a major milestone for our team and our customers in the U.S. health care system,” says Whill’s co-founder and CEO Satoshi Sugie. “We look forward to working with physicians in the United States by providing them with new modern wheelchair option for their patients.”

Perhaps even more critical is Whill’s plan to work further with the U.S. health care system so the Model M can be recognized by insurance such as Medicare. At around $14,000, insurance coverage will be the way many can gain access to a Whill wheelchair.

Whill spokesperson Chris Koyama told Digital Trends that the design of both the Model A and M benefit users beyond just function. “A common feedback is how it’s changing the way people interact. With conventional wheelchairs, they were asked if they needed help due to the medical look of the chair. With the Model M, people ask about the device like you ask someone about a nice car they drive or a cool edition of sneakers someone is wearing,” said Koyama. “The conversation is completely different.”

Daniel Minx, a tester of a Model M demo unit, relayed his experience: “No one sees me, at least from my perspective, as someone with a disability. They’re drawn to the unique design of Model M. When I’m using my Permobil, people ask me why I’m in a chair or what’s my disability. That doesn’t happen with Model M. Instead, I have more positive attention.”

Whill will be leading free two-hour test drive hikes in the Los Angeles area with the Model M starting September.

*Updated by Marcus Yam on August 25, 2016 with additional quotes and test drive information.

Mobile

The best CES 2019 health gadgets combat stress, pain, and more

We can all use some help with our health and CES 2019 was packed with intriguing devices designed to combat pain and stress, help you monitor blood pressure, reduce tinnitus, and care for the sick or elderly.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Look forward to your morning commute with one of the best ebikes available

A proper ebike is perfect for commuting or a trek along the trailhead, with most offering pedal assistance and a long-range battery. As more brands offer their own take on this innovative way to get around, it's hard to distinguish the…
Cars

Self-driving, electric, and connected, the cars of CES 2019 hint at the future

Car companies remained surprisingly quiet during CES 2018. But they spoke up in 2019. From electric hatchbacks you can buy in 2019 to super-futuristic mood-detecting technology, here are the major announcements we covered during the event.
Outdoors

North Face’s new waterproof fabric makes Gore-Tex look downright primitive

Futurelight, the new high-tech fabric from The North Face, promises to be the most waterproof, breathable, and eco-friendly fabric ever created, eliminating condensation to completely change the game for outdoor pursuits.
Mobile

Goal Zero Yeti Tank and Yeti Link expand home power storage options

At CES 2019, Goal Zero expands its ability to store power at home and while traveling with the introduction of the Yeti Tank and Yeti Link, as well as redesigned Sherpa battery packs and a new Nomad 5 solar panel.
Emerging Tech

Where are they now? A look back at last year’s Top Tech of CES winners

What happened to the 14 prize-winning products we singled out as the coolest things we saw at last year's CES 2018? Join us as we take a look at what the past 12 months has meant for them.
Emerging Tech

This iceless cooler looks like a Mars rover, keeps beer cold for a week

Furrion's Rova uses lithium-ion batteries and a compressor to keep beverages cold for up to a week with no ice, meaning you can skip the 7-11 run and cut straight to camping. It also charges gadgets and looks straight out of a Halo game.
Outdoors

Cyberfishing Smart Rod Sensor transforms normal fishing rods into data recorders

The Cyberfishing Smart Rod Sensor, on display at CES 2019, upgrades normal fishing rods into smarter versions of themselves. The device will work with a companion app to record data, including fishing hotspots and trophy fish details.
Emerging Tech

You may soon be able to summon an autonomous wheelchair like an Uber

At CES 2019, autonomous wheelchair company Whill unveiled its vision for a world in which people can summon its wheelchairs by app, in locations such as museums, airports, and city centers.
Emerging Tech

Furrion’s luxurious smart yacht looks like the perfect vessel for a Bond villain

Forget smart watches and the like: when it comes to the biggest smart technology at CES 2019, the literal answer can be nothing other than the 78-foot, high-tech luxury smart yacht, Adonis.
Outdoors

Here are all the best rain jackets on the market right now

From high-tech, lightweight shells to modern-looking, waterproof trench coats, check out our list of the best rain jackets built to keep you dry and looking stylish in any season.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.