Development of the iBOT started in 1990 with the first working prototypes available in 1992 and then in late 1994, DEKA signed a deal with Johnson & Johnson to manufacture the unit, with Johnson & Johnson paying for all subsequent R&D with DEKA receiving a smaller royalty fee than they normally would in return for their retaining rights to all non-medical applications of the technology.
The iBOT was revealed to the public on Dateline NBC in a segment by John Hockenberry on June 30, 1999. By this time, Johnson & Johnson had already spent US$50,000,000 on the project. The iBOT entered clinical trials in 1999, with FDA approval arriving four years after the reveal on August 13, 2003.
During development the iBot was nicknamed Fred after Fred Astaire. The Segway PT, which was the result of the non-medical product development was nicknamed Ginger (after Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire's dance partner) was released in 2001.
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. 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. In 2011, Dean Kamen, the inventor of the iBOT, stated his support of America's Huey 091 Foundation's effort to reinstate iBOT production.
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.
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.
- "The iBOT". msu.edu. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- 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.
- "A whole new set of wheels". msnbc.com. 26 October 2003. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- 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.
- Metcalfe, Bob. "CNN - More than a wheelchair, the IBOT is on the move - November 26, 1999". www.cnn.com. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- "Recently-Approved Devices - INDEPENDENCE™ iBOT™ 3000 Mobility System – P020033". www.fda.gov. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- 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.
- 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.
- Johnson & Johnson (2008-12-21). "Official Website". Archived from the original on 2011-07-13. Retrieved 2008-12-30.
- iBOT homepage Archived 2007-02-17 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 10 Apr 2009
- "iBOT's End Puts Power Wheelchair's Users In Tough Spot". WBUR Here & Now. 26 Dec 2011. Retrieved 20 Dec 2015.
- "Stair-climbing wheelchair comes to a halt". msnbc.com. 25 May 2009. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- "Huey091 > Home". Huey091foundation.org. 2011-12-18. Archived from the original on 2012-02-13. Retrieved 2012-02-04.
- "Dean Kamen—Leadership in Engineering".
- "iBOT Poised for Comeback | Corporate". corporatenews.pressroom.toyota.com. Retrieved 2 June 2016.
- "Stair-Climbing Wheelchair - iBOT Mobility System". About.com. Retrieved July 15, 2014.