Last month, Adir Simantov, an IDF soldier paralyzed in a car accident six years ago, fulfilled his dream of marrying his sweetheart Liat. Instead of using his regular wheelchair, he surprised his bride and his wedding guests by standing tall while rolling to the huppah, a big smile on his face, accompanied by his parents. He lowered the veil over his bride’s face and took his place beside her, looking into her eyes, under the wedding canopy.
What enabled Simantov to be upright under the huppah was a special vehicle developed by Israeli startup UPnRIDE Robotics Ltd that helps people paralyzed from their necks down to stand up and be mobile on wheels.
The UPnRIDE device developed by Dr. Amit Goffer — the mastermind behind the bionic walking assistance system ReWalk, which enables paraplegics to stand up straight, walk and climb stairs — is now ready to be sold, with an initial focus on the European market, where the firm has received the necessary regulatory approvals to market its product. The firm is still awaiting a green light for sales from the US Food and Drug Administration and Israeli regulators, said Oren Tamari, the CEO and co-founder of UPnRIDE.
Indeed, Simantov did not pay for the vehicle he used, said Tamari, as the firm has not yet received clearance for sales in Israel. His use of the vehicle “was part of our usability study,” Tamari said.
“We hope to see a push in sales” both in Europe and in the US within the next six months, Tamari said in a phone interview. “The product is ready to go and we are working on marketing it now.”
UPnRIDE’s patented solution is a mobility device — as opposed to ReWalk’s walking device — and it is actually a wheelchair that takes quadriplegics from a sitting position to an upright position, then wheels them around while they are vertical.
Unlike other standing wheelchairs already on the market, UPnRide’s solution is good for both indoor and outdoor environments, as the center of gravity of the user stays within the center of the device — once the user is pushed up to a standing position — ensuring it remains stable. In this way the device can negotiate a variety of surfaces, sidewalks and slopes.
The introductory price of the vehicle will be around $25,000 said Tamari, placing it within the range of high-end wheelchairs, which can cost as much as $50,000.
“We are talking to insurance companies, to convince them to refund users for the equipment,” said Tamari. “When a person is standing, there are so many health benefits – both physical and psychological. These help medical costs drop dramatically, and will save a lot of money for insurance companies.”
At the moment insurance firms do not cover the full price for UPnRIDE, he said, “but in the long run they will.”
The firm is in the process of raising $6 million to $12 million via crowd-investing funding campaigns held by Together in Israel and Jordan Knauff & Company in the US, he said, to help finance its production and marketing efforts.
The company is targeting wheelchair distributors and has already signed an agreement with a UK distributor and is looking for others in Italy, Germany and also the US. “The market is packed with wheelchair manufacturers who have a good stake of the market,” he said. “But none of the other wheelchairs, even those with standing functions, allow the person to be upright both indoors and outdoors, and also on slopes. We do this.”
The product is currently being manufactured in Israel and the firm is on the brink of signing up an outside contractor to supply the greater number of pieces it hopes to sell. Eventually, said Tamari, when sales volume goes up, the aim will be to set up manufacturing facilities in the markets in which the product is sold.