First Impressins - The Whill Chair

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First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 01 Jan 2016, 03:03

I went to a local mobility vendor yesterday, to try out a Segway chair conversion (the Blumil one, reviewed in another post). The vendor also had one of the new Whill Chairs (http://www.whill.us) that's just hit the market over here in Trumpland. I was able to give it a test drive, so here are my first impressions, for any who may be interested.

The chair was developed by "automotive engineers" and focuses on ergonomics and style. It's got trick front casters that don't turn, instead each caster "wheel" is comprised of 24 mini wheels that allow the chair to move in any direction. This keeps the front of the chair very compact, because the casters can be brought inboard very near the footplate.

Compactness was clearly a design priority, because the chair feels small, but in a good way. Your head will hit the wall in the rear at the same time the rear wheels do. Overall length is 35-39", depending on footplate placement. Width is a very manageable 23.6". The chair turns within it's own diameter.

Even so, my 6'1", 13 Stone (180 lb) frame was very comfortable. The highly adjustable seat and backrest are extremely supportive. That said, this isn't really a chair for people with complex rehab needs. Positioning options are fairly limited, beyond what is offered by the height and reach adjustability of the seat/back.

Control is via three stage speed control on the left arm pod (slow/faster/fastest) and steering on the right (a flat rectangular "mouse-like" joystick or optional "thumb and finger" stick). There is no display screen, because the chair comes with an iPhone companion app (an Android app is apparently under development) that controls all major functions. Much like normal power-chair programmers, the app allows the control of "all chair parameters" from seat adjustment to turn rate, acceleration, deceleration, speed increments, joystick sensitivity and more. I didn't get a chance to tweak more than a few items, but sliding everything over to "50" (the top setting on the 0-50 scale) made the chair much sprightlier. I suspect there may be a "51-100" option hidden somewhere, though the vendor denied it. The app also allows the chair to be driven by remote control, via bluetooth.

Subjectively, the chair drove well. It started, stopped and turned instantly on command. Everything felt very direct, with no discernible delay between input and response. The chair hasn't been approved by the FDA yet; no doubt the models ultimately available via insurance/Medicare will come with sluggish performance and an app that only lets you change the colors of the tail lights. I'm only half joking: the regulators have already made the manufacturer add armrests to the product, even though it doesn't need them and compromises the purity of the design.

I was able to drive the Whill over some uneven terrain (a grassy, hilly park area) and it behaved well, pulling strongly up a 10% grade and handling bumpy ground with ease. The magic casters handled 4" curbs fine and the chair pulled itself up strongly. I didn't try it on sand or wet ground, which would have been a better test of the chair's 4-wheel-drive system. In any case, the narrow wheels would probably sink in anything much soggier than damp grass.

The Whill has a top speed of 5.5 mph, which is nothing to get excited about, but the quick acceleration makes the chair feel faster than it is. The agile and responsive steering adds to the sensation of speed.

Aesthetically, whether the chair appeals visually is a subjective decision. I quite like it. In person, it looks modern and sleek, more like a cool recreational vehicle from the future than a ponderous "wheel chair." The arm pods are low and the joystick protrudes less than an inch, so it's very easy to get in close to tables and desks. The lack of multiple buttons and display screen gives it a clean functional look. Again, more like a "lifestyle" product than a life support machine.

The big (and I mean big) drawback of the Whill is that it uses lead batteries. Yes, you read that right. I couldn't believe it when I read it on the Whill site. It's like opening the bonnet of a Tesla and finding a steam engine inside. You just don't expect Jurassic tech to be at the heart of something so self-consciously 21st Century. The result is everything you'd expect: 12 mile range, 5.5 mph top speed, 6 month battery warranty (I wonder why). Bleh.

I emailed customer service today, asking if they had a lithium model in the pipeline. They responded within an hour (they seem very good), saying that they went with lead to comply with FAA regulations (presumably despite the fact that lithium powered chair can be made to comply with FAA regulations quite easily) and that, no, they don't have plans to use lithium in future. I responded by asking if it is possible to use lithium in place of the lead batteries (to at least get a bit of the range and longevity benefits). I'll let you know what I find out.

One other quibble with the chair is that it is largely made of plastic. This no doubt keeps weight down, but the demo model was showing signs of damage (even though the vendor has only had it for a week or two). If you're like me and use your chair to wedge doors open while your feeble arms scrabble for purchase, the Whill is not a good choice. It would be scratched, dinged and scraped to hell within a few days. Given the Whill is all about sleekness and style (the iPhone of wheelchairs, as some have dubbed it), it wouldn't be long before you're driving around in an iPhone with a cracked screen. Not cool.

In summary, the Whill is a chair with great promise. It looks very well made and felt good to sit in and drive. The "automotive engineers" certainly captured that nice feeling of slipping behind the wheel of a new car. The tech is advanced but discrete (the front casters feel like normal casters, just not wobbly and they don't catch on things) and the whole package works well. The lead batteries and plastic construction, however, put this firmly into the "wait 'til the next generation" category.

For any still interested, the Whill retails in the US for about $11k.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 01 Jan 2016, 11:18

12 mile range? Reality is about half based on the ISO test figures with lead.
So it wouldnt get me to the bank and back if I had to clean the house first. That's worse than indoor only chairs!

And its the same overall dimensions as my own chair(s) here which can be under 25 wide and 37 long in total which can still use 70Ah group 24 (or 120Ah lithium): download/file.php?id=4198&mode=view

So it seems they have gone for plastic frying pan style over the thing very that matters, tyres/fat/tubeless etc, batteries, ride, power etc.
It seems to have the usual small wheels, low speed and thin tyres (or no tyres), and no suspension and tiny batteries? Just like most cheap indoor only chairs. In other words, what's the point of 4 wheel drive on a chair that's too weedy in the tyre, suspension, battery department to be much good even in the park in winter? Sort of misses the point.

Some other things worry me. Those wheels (all 4) are not going to work on anything soft, grass, gravel, if you actually stop and try and turn. They will just push a wall of soft stuff against the sides. And considering I wear out half a dozen 10 inch fat pneumatic rubber caster tyres a year, how long will they last being abused on concrete or dirt tracks? And how do you get the mud or fibres out?

Must be me (I am probably very biased and different people see things differently) And I havent seen one in person or tested it. But I find it all a bit of a pointless arty student project that misses the point entirely. Designed by committee? I dont even like the look of it! Looks like art for arts sake, in this case also to the detriment of function. I think my own super low budget bedroom built chairs would work better everywhere and look better too!
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 01 Jan 2016, 20:26

Yeah, the range is the real killer. The chair uses two 12v 50 Ah MK ES50-12 batteries, which are pretty feeble. I agree this makes the Whill little better than a "Hoveround" or any other indoor light-use chair.

The wheels are another concern. The magic casters look well-designed and robust, but they're also probably very expensive to replace. And instead of one or two places where hair and fibres can get in and do damage, these babies have 24 (each). So there's plenty of scope for things to go wrong.

The narrowness of the drive wheels, as you say, means it isn't even worth talking about the chair's off-road capabilities. Dry grass and slightly uneven ground, sure, it'll handle that. Anything wet or muddy and it will sink like a stone. Also, the front casters will get gummed up, so you'll lose the ability to turn.

Regarding the (lack of) suspension, the seat does provide a reasonable amount of isolation, but big bumps and ruts are very noticeable. A prolonged expedition on rough ground would be pretty jarring.

Its a pity, really, because the chair is packaged well. I take your point about the looks not being to everyone's taste, but I personally found them to be fine (especially in the dark color scheme - the white screams 'iPod' a bit too much). The control layout is unobtrusive and intuitive, and it's nice not having to muck around with a big clunky joystick box every time I want to pull up close to a table. I liked the chair's responsiveness and taut handling, and the way the seat hugs the rider. It definitely has a sports car feel about it.

That said, the feeble power, damage-prone plastics and skinny wheels make this more of a Star Trek prop than a realistic everyday chair.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 01 Jan 2016, 20:51

Star trek prop! :D

That's a perfect description. Its form over function instead of the other way around!

Designed by an art student that thinks the "stuff" that makes it all work is just something unimportant that's hidden away inside somewhere afterwards.

Instead of an engineer that assembled all the best parts, in the best way possible for performance, capability, usability and then stood back to see how it looked!
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 05 Jan 2016, 01:25

UPDATE:

I've been having an email exchange with Whill's engineering department over the past few days. They're refreshingly happy to engage and explain the thinking behind the chair's design and technology decisions. I got a couple of additional pieces of info about the chair:

- It uses an R-Net controller, so is potentially reprogrammable if the settings available via the iPhone app are insufficient.
- They claim a real-world range of 10.6-12mph. I asked them if this number was derived using the "tennis court test" or over the kind of terrain and behaviours users are likely to experience (stop, start, curb, hill, turn, etc). I'll update when I get a response.
- The heavy lead batteries are located low in the chassis, adding to the chair's stability. They advertise it as being able to climb 10° inclines, but have tested it successfully at 18-19°. That said, I'm sure they could have found other ways to keep the COM low without installing lead anchors.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 05 Jan 2016, 03:30

They use over the counter lead bricks, and R-net? And brushed motors? And stock over the counter robotics sideways wheels?
And the use of some multi directional wheels. Which is a bad idea. You have 1 inch caster's when you turn...

Half the planets robotics teams and students fit them on everything. They are available in powered control single axis versions https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=mecan ... D&dpr=1.25

Or free moving ones to replace casters. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=mecan ... nal+wheels

And they only work on smooth clean flat surfaces. Or if you keep moving forwards on the loose stuff. So generally high wear, easy to clog up, and unsuitable for a powerchair other than in a shopping centre.

Seems their only development has been a funny control knob, connected to a stock over the counter controller and 2 white frying pans to "look" cool.

Will, Lenny, and myself have done 100 times more actual development work on a budget of almost zero between us! Tubeless, brushless, 45/48 volt lithium systems, High power roboteq systems with custom code, to make it work by Lenny, fat tyres for ride and floatation on soft stuff, huge range, huge speed, better ride and control, fast charging, mobile charging and yes radio control capability built in. But no frying pans! Why? Well because frankly its silly! :D

Do you know what REALLY amazes me? They are marketing the thing!
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 05 Jan 2016, 04:01

Not only are they marketing it, people are fawning over it. At the San Diego Auto Show (where one of the van conversion companies had several power chairs on their stand, including the Whill and Blumil Segway seat) there was a line to try it out. Able bodied types were cooing about how "cool" and "awesome" it is. At the time, I didn't know anything about the chair's innards (and the vendor was either lying or clueless, with his talk about lithium batteries, 8.5mph speed and 20 mile range) until afterward, so it was a real disappointment to find out it was all fur coat, no knickers.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby ex-Gooserider » 05 Jan 2016, 07:33

I'd also say that a TWO HANDED control system is a TOTAL Loser as far as I'm concerned... Aside from the savings in physical effort, the fact that I only need one hand to work a chair with a joystick is THE big advantage over a manual - it means I still have one hand free to carry stuff, work doors, and do all the other things that one might like to do... (If I could figure out a 'no-hands' method that was as responsive and precise I'd be all over it, as I'd really like to have both hands free...)

Also what's this about only having a choice of 'slow / medium / fast' speeds???? I do spend as much of my time with the joystick maxxed out on my 4mph chair, but when I can't floor it, I at least want to have an infinite range of speeds to pick from....

Add the above to BM's list of reasons for not liking the thing....

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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 05 Jan 2016, 12:47

Quick breakdown.

Its a small slow, cheap indoor chairs batts/motors/etc with a arty "design" students plastic covers and funny (easy. commonly available) caster wheels. The only design they did was to make it look "cool" to the techno ignorant with its oddball plastic. The mechanicals were the afterthought to make it go.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 05 Jan 2016, 21:22

ex-Gooserider wrote:I'd also say that a TWO HANDED control system is a TOTAL Loser as far as I'm concerned...

Also what's this about only having a choice of 'slow / medium / fast' speeds???? I do spend as much of my time with the joystick maxxed out on my 4mph chair, but when I can't floor it, I at least want to have an infinite range of speeds to pick from....

ex-Gooserider


The control system is a bit silly, since they could have easily combined the two functions on a single arm without compromising the clean design. As it is, you only use the left arm control to turn the chair on, choose one of the three speed settings and gaze at the sexy battery meter as you quickly run out of juice. Go/stop/steering is achieved via the joythingey on the right.

I was a bit unclear on the speed. The three speed settings are just programs. The slow one is glacial (I mean really glacial, you're not sure if you or the continents are moving). The middle speed is what would be the slow program on a regular chair. Fast takes you up to 5.5mph "ohmygod the speeeeeeed!" territory. Just like a normal chair, you can vary your speed continuously within the parameters of the program. It's an R-Net controller underneath, so it's not surprising it behaves the same as any other (except the Whill chair guys seem less squirrly about letting the end user change the config settings). That said, there's really no reason to ever use the two lower settings. The "fast" setting is sufficiently responsive for anything anyone who isn't in a coma needs to do. I assume the slow setting is there to let users navigate the chair in very tight spaces, since the merest contact with foreign objects will probably scratch it.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Tomkilmore » 24 Apr 2016, 10:42

One thing I've learned over my life is ALOT of people like style over substance, it just so happens that your chairs (bm) somehow manage to tick both boxes. The lighting pod and chunky frame and wheels give the style and the specs, the substance. I've learned quite a lot whilst building them over the last few years and can spot a chair that's going to be as useful as a chocolate fireguard, including how long it will last in real world. Hopefully one day I can enter the big arena and bring in some sweeping changes, if not at least I am now doing a job I absolutely love, in fact, 'living the dream' for me :)
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 24 Apr 2016, 16:31

But wide wheels, good mechanical design, is attractive. Form follows function.
So as you say elegant functional mechanicals made and machined and finished well also looks good.

But putting arty farty controls which are obviously worse, massive plastic frying pans to cover cheap basic motors and small batteries and skinny tyres, just makes it look like a cheap toy you would buy on a street market for a kid. Or its a way of hiding the guts because they look bad. Are bad. Far from adding anything they look like a kitchen appliance. Different for the sake of it. Yet to some cluless art/design student its the "reason" for the chair. He thinks that IS design...
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Cal » 26 Feb 2017, 18:48

CNN did a feature on a user a while back:


Japanese startup WHILL is attempting to reinvent the wheelchair, including the wheel.
http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/2015/09/02/whill-wheelchair-reinvented.cnnmoney/index.html?sr=fbmoney090315wheelchair1130video


I'm just not seeing what advantages there are with this chair :? It looks like a rough ride :roll:
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 26 Feb 2017, 19:50

It hasnt got any. But its got many downsides I can see!
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby F3Head » 26 Feb 2017, 21:41

Design choices and limitations aside, it's good to see someone trying something new in this industry.
In an ideal world we'd all like bleeding edge technology. But within the confines of the insurance industry
I hope they get approval for it, even though it won't likely work me. Good find Gimpy and thanks for taking the time
to write a comprehensive review.

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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 27 Feb 2017, 00:40

Its on sale in the US now or was. This thread is 13 months old. But its not likely to sell well.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby ex-Gooserider » 28 Feb 2017, 04:20

They are still running big display adds in New Mobility (The United Spinal Assoc. rag) for whatever it is worth... Same outfit also makes (or at least advertises) the "TEK Mobility Device" - that super narrow, tiny tired standing scooter thing, and a light duty robot arm (IIRC it's rated for only about a pound lift) that can mount on a chair arm and grab stuff for you with joystick or other control...

IMHO all items that are more bling than function... (The arm might be useful but my understanding is one can get higher capacity industrial arms for similar costs, albeit less pretty...)

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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 28 Feb 2017, 12:51

The chair though I just dont get. Its reason to exist is "looks" apparently. And if you ask me it looks bloody awful. And has funny controls to boot, and hard skinny tyres and no suspension, low speed, small motors/batteries. Its claim to fame is the white "handles" and those funny front wheels that seem worse than casters. If it sells its a triumph of marketing over engineering...
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby MenCallMeGimpy » 01 Mar 2017, 07:45

New Mobility gave the chair a glowing review last year, so I guess they earned their ad money. The review mentioned the chair's "all terrain" capabilities, while showing a video of it pootling around a bone-dry patch of flat grass in a city park.

Whill had a big presence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. As soon as I rolled into view, they were on me, asking if I wanted a test drive. I told them I'd already tried it and wasn't particularly impressed. They asked why not and I listed the issues mentioned in this thread, particularly the lead batteries, easily-scratched plastic, and feeble range. They tried the old "the batteries need to be heavy to give the chair low-down weight so it doesn't tip" malarkey, to which I replied "That's just bad design. Their are plenty of ways to stabilize a mobile platform that don't involve adding performance-killing lead anchors." I also pointed out that their "all terrain" claims were pretty dubious, particularly since the multi-terrain track they'd laid out for people to test the chair on conspicuously didn't include sand or wet surfaces. I did ride my Frontier V6 over their course and expressed my disappointment that it wasn't more of a challenge. They lost interest in talking with me shortly afterwards.
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Re: First Impressins - The Whill Chair

Postby Burgerman » 01 Mar 2017, 21:41

It can only sell to the mechanically ignorant based on claims and the plastic kitchen utensil styling. As an outdoor chair it sort of fails at every step!
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