I Just Test Drove the Most High-Tech Wheelchair


LAS VEGAS — You might not be able to take Whill’s Model Ci for a serious off-roading adventure, but the company’s new high-tech wheelchair was pretty damn fun to drive around the CES show floor.

The Model Ci is a $4,000 personal mobility device, otherwise known as a wheelchair. But this electric vehicle is more rugged than any wheelchair I’ve ever seen, with each front wheel comprising 24 individual wheels, so you can tackle a rough city sidewalk or a lawn with ease.

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I cruised around the CES show floor at a snail’s pace of 2 miles per hour, but I still felt like I was speeding around. This model can cruise up to 5 mph, and Whill’s executives told me they’ve heard from more adventurous seniors, such as veterans, that higher speeds would be even better. I personally would be a little terrified to zoom around at top speeds, but it does sound thrilling.

The Model Ci’s hand-operated joystick controls the wheelchair’s movement. I was able to quickly change directions, reverse and bypass unsuspecting CES attendees without bumping into them. This wheelchair is incredibly responsive (and comfortable, too).

Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/GettyCredit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/GettyOf course, this high-tech wheelchair has built-in Bluetooth and a smartphone app so you can customize driving modes, plus a battery indicator, which lets you know when the Model Ci needs a charge.

When I asked Whill about a self-driving wheelchair, the company said it already exists. Whill is working with airports to use autonomous vehicles similar to the Model Ci to transport passengers to preprogrammed destinations inside the airport.

Personal electric vehicles and self-driving tech will be all over CES this year, and Whill’s Model Ci is an example of the kind of tech I come to the show to see: a really cool, really useful device that can actually improve someone’s life.