We recently featured the Whill and its potentially revolutionary new front wheels that allow for easier turning, but what if you didn’t have to always turn? What if your wheelchair could move diagonally and side-to-side? The idea of an omnidirectional chair has been around since 1973 when a Swedish inventor devised a wheel with angled rollers attached to it that allowed objects to roll in any direction. The invention was called the Mecanum wheel, and over the years inventors have toyed with applying it to wheelchairs (in addition to NASA and military vehicles). The latest, and coolest looking iteration, the Omnichair, comes from a team of Swiss inventors and is just now rolling out here in the states.
If you haven’t seen a Mecanum wheel work before, I highly recommend watching one of the many videos on YouTube. Vehicles seem to glide or hover more than roll. The website compares driving to “ballet in an electric wheelchair” and promises it requires 30 percent less maneuvering space. I haven’t used one but can only imagine it feels very foreign to the traditional wheelchair experience. Mark Walti, who oversees U.S. distribution of the Omnichair describes the sensation as “extraordinary.” “It allows you to do almost everything you could do as a non-disabled person,” says Walti, who is not disabled.
The Omnichair is in its infancy, with production just beginning in Europe this June and U.S. marketing efforts firing up now. Omniroll, the company behind the chair, is developing other products using the Mecanum wheel too, but hopes the market for the Omnichair materializes and allows it to focus more on developing the chair. With a listed starting price of $26,675 (not including the cost of shipping the chair from Europe), it will be interesting to see if the Omnichair can move beyond a novelty and have an impact on the way we look at wheelchairs. For more on the Omnichair, visit its website here.