Is the Next big thing 'transitional mobility'?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

CANTON, Mich.- If Don Leith has anything to say about it, the next big thing in wheelchairs will be his company, Next Mobility, which debuted its line of "transitional mobility" products at Medtrade this year.
"If a consumer orders a rigid lightweight manual chair and a few years later wants a power assist, he can order the kit," said Leith, Next CEO. "Then, if later in life he decides he wants to go from power assist to full power, we'll have a kit available where he can plug in a joy stick and a higher capacity battery. That is our plan, and that is what we refer to as transitional mobility."
When it comes to high-tech, Leith and crew are hardly rookies. The Canton, Mich.-based Next is a subsidiary of Creative Technology Services (CTS), which specializes in manufacturing and assembling sophisticated electo-mechanical medical devices, including the J&J iBot. Leith is the president and owner of CTS.
Next's new Tailwind line includes eight wheelchairs that can transition from manual to power assist to full power. The company has contracted with Cannondale, a leading manufacturer of high-end bikes, to make the Tailwind's high-quality aluminum frames.
"This is advanced technology that we feel will give us a superior edge in the marketplace," Leith said. "Transitional mobility will allow people to stay in the same frame that is going to be designed by them and built to order."
The company acquired the power assist technology from J&J, which used it previously on the now-discontinued iGlide. J&J exited the power assist market in 2004 to focus more resources on the iBot power wheelchair. (In an interesting twist, Leith and other senior execs at Next developed the power-assist technology and sold it to J&J.)
In addition to the Tailwind line and a pediatric chair, in late August Next entered the final stages of acquiring TefTec, the maker of the OmegaTrac all-terrain power wheelchair.
"We're not going to take away from its heritage," he said. "We're going to work on cost reduction, weight reduction and restyle and re-engineer the product to take it to its next level."