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President Bill Clinton and Dean Kamen in the White House, 2000
Classification Electronics
Industry Transportation
Application Conveyance
Fuel source Electric
Self-propelled yes
Inventor DEKA

The iBOT is a powered wheelchair developed by Dean Kamen in a partnership between DEKA and Johnson and Johnson's Independence Technology division.


Johnson & Johnson era[edit]

Development and release[edit]

The iBOT, originally nicknamed Fred after Fred Astaire,[1] first began development around 1990. The first working prototype was finished in July 1992. In late 1994, DEKA signed a deal with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture Fred, with Johnson & Johnson paying for all R&D after the deal was signed, while DEKA received a smaller royalty fee than they normally demanded and DEKA retaining rights to all non-medical applications of the technology. These non-medical application rights would lead to a project nicknamed Ginger, which eventually became the Segway.[2] The iBOT was revealed to the public on Dateline NBC in a segment by John Hockenberry on June 30, 1999.[3][4][5] By this time, Johnson & Johnson had already spent US$50,000,000 on the project.[6] The iBOT entered clinical trials in 1999,[7] with FDA approval arriving four years after the reveal on August 13, 2003.[8]

Production ends[edit]

Starting in 2009, the iBOT was no longer available for sale from Independence Technology, but support for existing units was available until the end of 2013.[9] Production was discontinued for cost reasons; only a few hundred were sold per year at a retail price of about $25,000, and Medicare paid $5000.[10][11]

In 2011, Dean Kamen, the inventor of the iBOT, stated his support of America's Huey 091 Foundation's effort to reinstate iBOT production.[12]

In late 2014, Kamen announced that the FDA had reclassified the iBOT from a Class III to a Class II medical device. This lowering of regulatory controls will allow DEKA to revive the long dormant iBOT and immediately start building a next generation product. Kamen said the model would be out in “less than two years" and would be available initially to wounded veterans.[13]

Toyota era[edit]

On May 21, 2016, Toyota announced a partnership with DEKA to produce a new version of the iBOT.[14] No release date was set at the time of the announcement.[15][16][17][18]


The iBOT has a number of features distinguishing it from most powered wheelchairs:

  • By rotating its two sets of powered wheels about each other, the iBOT can "walk" up and down stairs, much like a cog railway or a rack and pinion with the two wheels as the "teeth" of the gear. The wheels can roll slightly at each step to compensate for a wide range of stair dimensions. When stair-climbing without assistance, the user requires a sturdy handrail and a strong grip. With an assistant, neither a handrail nor a strong grip is required.
  • The iBOT is capable of tethered remote control operation, useful for loading the wheelchair up ramps into vehicles, or "parking" out of the way when not occupied.
  • Custom software receives data via various sensors and gyroscopes, allowing the iBOT to maintain balance during certain maneuvers. For example, during curb climbing the seat remains level while parts of the chassis tilt to climb the curb.
  • It allows the user to rise from a sitting level to approximately 6' tall, measured from the ground to the top of the head, and depending on the size of the occupant. It does this by raising one pair of wheels above the other to elevate the chassis, while a separate actuator raises the seat slightly more than usual. In this configuration the device is on two wheels, and the 'iBALANCE' software and gyroscope signals control the iBOT to maintain equilibrium, balancing much like the Segway scooter (which was a spin-off from the iBOT development). The user may also travel in this "standing" configuration.
  • It can climb and descend curbs ranging from 0.1 to 5.0 inches, according to the manufacturer's specifications. The limits are determined by the rider's technique and risk tolerance.
  • It is capable of traveling through many types of terrain, including sand, gravel, and water up to 3" deep.[19]


  1. ^ Kemper, Steve (2003). Code name Ginger : the story behind segway and Dean Kamen's quest to invent a new world. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781578516735. Retrieved 23 June 2016. One day, goofing around, they rotated them in opposite directions, which made the machine dip and jig in a crazy rumba that led someone to remark that it danced like Fred Astaire. "No," said Dean. "Fred Upstairs." They began calling the project Fred. 
  2. ^ Kemper, Steve (2003). Code name Ginger : the story behind segway and Dean Kamen's quest to invent a new world. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. pp. 20–30. ISBN 9781578516735. 
  3. ^ "The iBOT". msu.edu. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  4. ^ Kemper, Steve. Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World. Harvard Business Press. p. 53. ISBN 9781578516735. 
  5. ^ "A whole new set of wheels". msnbc.com. 26 October 2003. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  6. ^ Kemper, Steve (2003). Code name Ginger : the story behind segway and Dean Kamen's quest to invent a new world. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press. p. 48. ISBN 9781578516735. 
  7. ^ Metcalfe, Bob. "CNN - More than a wheelchair, the IBOT is on the move - November 26, 1999". www.cnn.com. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  8. ^ "Recently-Approved Devices - INDEPENDENCE™ iBOT™ 3000 Mobility System – P020033". www.fda.gov. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  9. ^ iBOT homepage, retrieved 10 Apr 2009
  10. ^ "iBOT's End Puts Power Wheelchair's Users In Tough Spot". WBUR Here & Now. 26 Dec 2011. Retrieved 20 Dec 2015. 
  11. ^ "Stair-climbing wheelchair comes to a halt". msnbc.com. 25 May 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  12. ^ "Huey091 > Home". Huey091foundation.org. 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2012-02-04. 
  13. ^ "Dean Kamen—Leadership in Engineering". 
  14. ^ "iBOT Poised for Comeback | Corporate". corporatenews.pressroom.toyota.com. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  15. ^ Fingas, Jon. "Toyota is bringing back Dean Kamen's stair-climbing wheelchair". Engadget. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  16. ^ Heater, Brian. "Toyota and Dean Kamen are bringing back the iBOT motorized, stair-climbing wheelchair". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  17. ^ Strange, Adario. "Toyota teams with Segway inventor to revive innovative iBOT wheelchair". Mashable. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  18. ^ Mlot, Stephanie. "Toyota Revives Stair-Climbing iBOT Wheelchair". PCMAG. Retrieved 2 June 2016. 
  19. ^ "Stair-Climbing Wheelchair - iBOT Mobility System". About.com. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 

External links[edit]