Google backs wheelchair tech

Center for Discovery hopes to launch indieGo by end of 2017
Tuesday, June 21, 2016

HURLEYVILLE, N.Y. – Google has awarded a $1.125M grant to the Center for Discovery to create an open source power add-on that will turn any manual wheelchair into a power wheelchair.

“What’s unique about our design is that it requires no modification to the existing wheelchair,” said John Damiao, power mobility program director at The Center for Discovery, which offers adult and pediatric rehabilitation programs for disabled individuals.

The indieGo is a small rolling platform that manual wheelchair users can roll onto and control using a joystick. The device is designed to be portable, light, and small enough to fit in the trunk of a car.

Besides improving independence, research also shows that power wheelchairs are extremely beneficial in terms of health cost savings down the road.

“It helps to decrease the damage caused to shoulder joint integrity, which happens from propelling a manual wheelchair,” said Damiao. 

In general, insurance companies will only pay for power wheelchairs if the users are unable to propel the wheelchairs in their home or once they start to develop shoulder problems. 

For those who either don’t qualify or are uninsured, an average power wheelchair can cost $7,000 out-of-pocket. The indieGo has a target price point of $1,000.

“Our goal is not to make a profit on this device,” said Damiao. “Our goal is to make this device as impactful as possible. That’s why Google supported this project.”

To ensure availability, the Internet giant requires that the device be open sourced, meaning that its components and internals are made public.

“We want people in third world countries to be able to reproduce this device,” said Damiao. “All the components that go into this device should be readily accessible online for purchase.”

The Center for Discovery hopes to launch the indieGo by the end of 2017.