Saturday, January 23, 2021

A New Powered Wheelchair Helps Boost Independence For Users, Thanks To New Tech

“A lifesaver.” That’s what powered wheelchair user Herman Witlox calls Braze Mobility’s obstacle-detection system, a new-to-market technology that transforms a regular wheelchair into a “smart” wheelchair.

Witlox helped beta-test the Canadian innovation, which is poised to open up the world to people with limited mobility by helping avoid collisions when, for instance, manoeuvering in tight spaces or backing up. It’s especially useful to those challenged with upper-body mobility and vision issues.

While a powered wheelchair should represent opportunity for independence, many people with cognitive impairment or low peripheral vision are denied access because of safety concerns. This is a huge barrier to mobility, and it places added responsibility on caregivers.

Braze co-founder and CEO, Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, identified the need for smart wheelchairs when visiting a long-term care facility. “I saw firsthand that a lot of the residents were not even allowed to use powered mobility because of concerns about their cognitive impairment.”

The Braze new controller. Photo: Supplied.

This discovery turned into a decade of research developing Braze’s celebrated sensor technology, which detects potential obstacles and provides visual, audio or vibration feedback to drivers.

“Think of it as the technology that exists already for cars, but we’re designing it specifically for wheelchairs to improve safety and independence for wheelchair users,” says Viswanathan.

The idea is garnering overwhelmingly positive response, as well as support from AGE-WELL, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP), the Ontario Brain Institute through their ONtrepreneurs program, the Impact Centre at the University of Toronto (U of T) and Semaphore Research Cluster at U of T.

In October 2017, the company debuted two products – Braze Sentina and Braze Hydra – comprising primarily an LED display and control panel that detects the location and proximity of obstacles, as well as a mounting system to attach the devices to any powered or manual wheelchair. The retail cost ranges from $660 to $2,496 US, and both models are now selling online at www.brazemobility.com. As well, the Braze team is developing key sales partnerships.

“Before our product, the only solution was to take away the chair. What we have done is created an alternative,” says Viswanathan. “Now that we have launched, the constant comment we get is, ‘Where have you been for the last 10 years?’”

Braze Mobility is eyeing international expansion. The ultimate goal? To integrate their technology into every powered wheelchair.

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