This tech gives any wheelchair smart driving capabilities to help avoid collisions and falls


Seeing how little innovation there was in his daughter’s wheelchair, country songwriter Barry Dean and his engineer brother built LUCI, a way to upgrade any wheelchair’s tech.

For Katherine Dean, using a wheelchair means having to leave events too early or stay onerously late, to avoid the risk of navigating teeming crowds. She had to leave a Paul McCartney concert early, painful for a big Beatles fan; in the case of Disneyland fireworks, she had to wait until everyone else had left in order to go home safely.

Power wheelchair users continually encounter this stress—and often sustain injuries from collisions and tipping over. Of the roughly half of wheelchair users who reported an injury over a three-year period, 87% said it was a tip or fall. Another study found that wheelchair accidents accounted for more than 100,000 ER treatments in 2010 alone. Katherine’s father, country song writer Barry Dean, knew those stats, and was also troubled by personal anecdotes: a friend’s daughter, who used the same wheelchair as Katherine, “took a horrible tumble off a ramp.” One woman he spoke to had to have her toes amputated after crashing so hard into a wall.

That’s why Barry and his brother, Jered, an engineer, built a new wheelchair technology and a hardware accessory. “She gets one life,” says Barry of his daughter, who has cerebral palsy. “Am I gonna wait till she’s 40 for [her wheelchair] to do things that my bathroom scale or my toaster can do?”

It began as a “hobby,” but after research and contact with clinicians, it became a larger project that would eventually lead to forming a company and hiring a team of 11 or 12 full-time employees. The end result, which launched June 18, is LUCI, a smart software incorporated into a piece of hardware—the LUCI unit—that mounts between the seat and wheels of the chair, to provide stability and sensing capabilities. (LUCI is named after Katherine’s favorite Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”) The tech uses its own infrared, ultrasonic, and radar sensors, which help judge distance, obstacles, and other details of the surroundings, to create a smoother riding experience. The company collaborated with Intel’s RealSense team to improve mapping.

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