The iBOT smart wheelchair lets users walk up stairs

Toyota hopes a new partnership will herald the wheelchair's return.

Toyota and Dean Kamen (DEKA) have announced a new partnership to complete the iBOT, a smart wheelchair which would give the disabled more independence by changing how users can move.

Last week, the automaker and research firm revealed plans at the Paralyzed Veterans of America's 70th Annual Convention to complete the development and launch the iBOT motorized wheelchair.

As shown in the video below, the iBOT takes the traditional wheelchair model and improves it by using two sets of wheels which can be rotated and both rise and fall.

The companies say this would allow users to "walk" up and down stairs, rise from a sitting level to at least six feet and move across a variety of different terrains.

To push the project forward, Toyota will license balancing technology held by DEKA for both medical rehabilitative therapy and potentially other purposes, but the companies are still in talks to thrash out the details of iBOT.

Currently, even the most advanced wheelchairs on the market are hampered by issues including a rigid frame and wheels which can prevent users from traveling down certain paths or up steps -- and without solutions such as slopes into shops or bus platforms, daily life can be made even more difficult.

It can also be the case that without the proper adjustments to homes, disabled individuals may not be able to head upstairs easily, if at all.

Inventions such as the iBOT could change this and help those with physical issues adapt to daily life without so many restrictions. Many of our cities and urban environments were not built with wheelchairs or physical impairments in mind and it has only been in the last decade or so that adaptations have been made in shops and facilities -- but we still have a way to go.

"Our company is very focused on mobility solutions for all people," said Osamu Nagata, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Toyota Motor North America. "We realize that it is important to help older adults and people with special needs live well and continue to contribute their talents and experience to the world."

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