IoT put to good use: AT&T and Permobil partner on the connected wheelchair

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It's nice to see tech applied to real world problems. This new connected wheelchair is an excellent example of a technology fueled solution that is hugely useful.

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AT&T recently rolled out an Internet of Things platform, at the same time they set up the AT&T Foundry, a kind of skunkworks where smart people can create different solutions built on top of the IoT. One of the results of AT&T's initiatives is a new collaboration between the company and Permobil, a wheelchair manufacturer.

The two companies got together and came up with an IoT-enabled wheelchair. The wheelchair includes a number of sensors which monitor patient comfort, wheelchair performance and maintenance requirements. This is actually pretty important -- wheelchair-bound patients often suffer from pressure ulcers due to their extended periods in one position. Alongside that, for someone who sees a wheelchair as their only way to remain ambulatory, unexpected maintenance on the chair is problematic. This solution aims to solve some of those issues.

The areas that are being monitored with this initial product include:

  • Seating position and cushion pressure: Users will know if their seat cushion pressure is out of range which can lead to pressure ulcers. The solution complements Permobil’s Virtual Seating Coach, an app and cloud service that presents seating system information and tracks if users are following recommended seat function regimens.
  • Battery Llevel and predictive maintenance requirements: Manufacturers/dealers will know when a chair needs to be serviced by remotely accessing error codes. This enables single-trip service visits.
  • GPS location and fleet management: Manufacturers/dealers can quickly and efficiently schedule demos and appointments.

“The connected wheelchair is a great example of how the AT&T Foundry can quickly collaborate with a customer on a proof of concept to bring connectivity and intelligence to a new range of devices,” said Mike Troiano, vice president of AT&T industrial IoT solutions. “We’re using innovative technology to solve real-world problems and, in this case, potentially improve quality of life.”

In terms of the AT&T solutions that have been leveraged for this project, the wheelchair uses a Global SIM, AT&T Control Center and developer solutions like M2X and AT&T Flow Designer.

Permobil itself has a long legacy in the business, it was founded in Sweden in 1967 and now sells wheelchairs across 40 countries -- the chairs themselves are built to order and custom-fit to individual patients.

“Our ‘Guiding Star,’ when developing any product, comes directly from company founder, Dr. Per Udden, who has stated that every person with a disability has the right to have his or her handicap compensated as far as possible by aids with the same technical standard as those we all use in our everyday lives,” said Olof Hedin, Permobil chief information officer. “Permobil’s collaboration with the AT&T Foundry is the epitome of how to bring today’s technology into the complex rehabilitation arena to benefit users, clinicians, and stakeholders.”

It will be interesting to see how this project progresses, and to see if technology developed here sees the light of day in a true commercial product. One thing is for sure, this is a good glimpse of the future.

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