April 8, 2009 Wheelchairs serve the important function of giving those who have difficulty walking their independence. They’re a tried and true technology whose design has remained largely unchanged for many years due to the effectiveness and simplicity of the design (the first tubular steel wheelchair appeared in 1932, but Philip II of Spain used a dedicated "wheel-throne" in 1595 and evidence of variations on the idea date back to the 6th century BC). For all their usefulness though, wheelchairs do have a number of drawbacks. They force the users into a seated position, making interacting with a world designed for upright people frustrating as well as not being able to interact with those standing at their level. A new concept vehicle from Exmovere Holdings called the Chariot addresses these problems by letting amputees and others who have difficulty standing move around in an upright position.

Looking a little like a wearable Segway, the self-balancing, hands free Chariot is a sensor-activated pod controlled by subtle movements of the lower torso and hips. Sensors inside the cocoon-like shell of the vehicle predict the intended motion of the wearer and carry them in that direction. The battery powered vehicle can travel up to 12 miles per hour and Exmovere says the Chariot requires no manual dexterity, minimal physical effort and allows wearers to closely approach and reach objects that would otherwise be difficult to reach for those in wheelchairs as well as allowing its wearer to make direct eye contact with others.

According to David Bychkov, CEO of Exmovere, “The Chariot represents an exciting path for our company. Whereas our team was originally focused on designing sensor products that monitored signs of life, the Chariot's sensors are designed to make life more livable. We especially hope that the Chariot will offer dignity, strength and increased mobility to those who were wounded serving our country.”

Exmovere is a biomedical engineering company that specializes in emotion sensing applications for healthcare, homeland security and mobility and is therefore not limiting the Chariot to the differently abled. They say the production versions of the Chariot will integrate Exmovere's proprietary vital sign sensors, environmental and ground clearance sensors, wireless and cellular connectivity, a smaller form factor and unique options for military and law enforcement customers. They are also working to develop a feature of the Chariot that can switch the wearer from upright to seated position.

While the current design of the concept vehicle is sure to draw more than a few stares in public, the advantages it provides to the wheelchair bound, who already endure more than their fair share of unwanted attention, would surely make such attention a small price to pay.

Exmovere is currently presenting a series of demonstrations of the Chariot at their McLean, Virginia headquarters until April 10th and is seeking to partner with an automotive manufacturer to eventually launch a performance-oriented Chariot. Maybe it could provide a Chariot-led recovery for Detroit automakers.

Darren Quick

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