From I SCOOT to IBOT, #10 of ??: The good, the bad, and the ugly (IN THAT ORDER)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/12/20 03:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/12/20/9243392.aspx


YAIB -- yet another IBOT blog -- feel free to ignore if they aren't your thing...

Prior blogs in the series here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

This blog is going to be about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

As the title indicates, the three items will be covered in that order.

First, the GOOD.

Now I know the title of these blogs have implied a rolling comparison/contrast between the old world (scooting) and the new world of the iBOT® 4000 Mobility System.

And mostly I stopped bothering, since it was just better in every way and I was getting tired of beating up on the scooters that had been serving me so well.

In fact, I was wondering what I should do with the scooters now, and I was going to write about my thoughts on that subject -- but hold on to that thought, I'll get back to it in a moment!

There was a snowstorm in Seattle.

Now growing up in Beachwood OH, snow was never such a big deal. If a foot of snow hit the ground overnight, it just meant the snow plow drivers had to get up an hour earlier. The only time they used "snow days" at school was when teachers who live out of town could not make it to the school!

I'll talk more about my theories on Beachwood another time, for now I'm not going to get into it.

Anyway, there was a lot of snow in Seattle.

Most people were either trapped at home or unwilling to brave the roads; the campus was much emptier than usual and I myself stayed home Thursday and Friday, working from there.

I did have a lunch on Friday with a friend/colleague over in SQL Server so I braved the roads around noon or so. And once again I was amazed by the ease with which the 4-wheel mode handled the snow that was really still on the ground and the streets and the sidewalk.

I realized that if I depended on the scooter (either scooter), I would not be going anywhere -- the scooter wouldn't be able to take any of it.

Even on the Microsoft campus, where the roads and even sidewalks had paths more or less cleared, the scooter wouldn't have worked so well. Because the people clearing sidewalks had cleared the corner of every street only at the tip of the corner, ignoring the cutouts.

Had I not been in a wheelchair capable of handling curbs so easily, I'd be pretty screwed.

Iris and I were even talking a bit about the iBOT on our way to the cafeteria, and how cool it was even over rougher terrain. It was doing awesomely. I was playing it safe in 4-wheel mode but around my apartment I did a little balance mode stuff and it did a wonderful job of catching itself from dropping me.

Once again, I found myself being amazed at this truly wonderful device.

iBALANCE rocks.

Which brings me to the next part.

Next, the BAD.

I received a letter via FedEx next day air on Friday.

It actually came on Monday, but FedEx has stopped leaving notes on doors when they drop things off at the leasing office. So I didn't find out about it until Friday.

The FedEx envelope contained a single letter. I have scanned it here for your enjoyment (my apartment number obfuscated to maintain the myth of privacy in our world today):

Letter from Independence Technology 

So that's it.

Independence Technology, the subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that markets, sells, and services the iBOT is going to stop the marketing and selling in January of 2009 and then stop the servicing in 2013.

My first thought was about the fact that anytime I watched a TV show when it was originally aired rather than recording it to watch later, the show got canceled. Could this iBOT news be related to the fact that I was given one? Geez I hope not!

My second thought was "good thing I still have the scooters!"

Now of course that was specious; the iBOT would have been out of warranty then anyway, but it is still quite disturbing and annoying as it pretty much makes the whole thing feel less stable even though there is little overall change in the stability of the platform that would impact me.

Did you know that the company that sends out someone to do on-sight service my iBOT is one of the same companies that sends someone out to do on-sight service for my Dell laptops?

Literally even the same engineers, sometimes.

Thus the specifications for repair will exist even after Independence Technology is gone, and obviously someone will be able to step up to do out-of-warranty service. With people like me stocking up on parts like tires and batteries and lights and such for those anticipated potential future visits, I'll feel pretty covered. Even moreso than most since I'll hoard my spare parts in case they become scarce at some point.

The only thing truly missing are the cases when the iBOT goes into a warning mode after recovery from a bad situation that requires a phone call communicating error codes and release codes to clear things up. That will need a solution too, whether it is just publishing the codes (my preference) or giving them to those service companies (the next best thing).

I was already planning on hacking the iBOT to pimp my ride after the warranty expired anyway, so perhaps I'll just go that route a bit too. We'll see -- pulling out the challenge/response table for error situations may be the only thing I steal off the computer if it isn't published somewhere when Independence Technology closes its doors. I see no need to much more to the computer -- I'd rather it not get changed too much at all if I can help it.

Okay, now this brings us to the next part of this blog.

And finally, the UGLY.

we'll start with the letter.

Dated the 12th (probably sent then, by next day FedEx without weekend delivery).

Arrived on the 15th.

Now according to folks at Independence Technology, they are not doing any more marketing at all -- in fact, anyone who is not already in the pipeline now and set to get their assessment done before March 2009 is not ever going to get an iBOT.

They took down the main information on the site, with the home page of the iBOT site (http://www.ibotnow.com/) containing little more than the following text:

 

Independence Technology L.L.C. is no longer selling and marketing the iBOT® Mobility System. The Company remains committed to provide technical support and service to all iBOT® Mobility System owners through the end of 2013.

If you are an iBOT® Mobility System owner, please be assured that you can call the Technical Support Center in the U.S. at (800) 463-3669 and in the U.K. at 0800 404 9605 anytime you have an issue with your device. All other inquiries should be directed to the Customer Zone at: (877) 794-3125.

We appreciate your interest in the iBOT® Mobility System.

With the link to the owner's area gone, anyone whodoes not have the link is kind of screwed until they remedy the situation (the link is http://www.ibotnow.com/ibot/ibot-owners.html for those people who have iBOTs who want easy access to all of the instructions to do things in more convenient ways than the manual says, like deep discharging and such.

But given the way this impacts USERS of the iBOT much more than anyone else, the way this was handled -- whether by Johnson & Johnson or by Independence Technology -- really kind of sucked. Way to breed panic to your customer base. :-(

Dean Kamen still owns the technology and has a lot of options on the service side after the company closes its doors, though many of those options will be limited by the potential liability issues. Though the whole "out of warranty" area does make something possible.

Even though no word on what might be happening, or even that anyone is considering coming up with a plan at some pont, was communicated, clearly there will be one.

Oh, by the way, none of this is news.

Neither Live News nor Google News was reporting on this at all as of a few minutes ago. Though both do cover the "news" of its FDA approval from years back and Google news noted a few very recent mentions of the iBOT:

1) an offhand suggestion in a Computerworld blog from Steven J, Vaughn-Nichols entitled Steve Jobs' health doesn't matter:

Could it be that Apple wants to hide a decline in his health? By not showing up, all Apple has done is fuel endless online speculation about his health. It would be better for Apple if Jobs showed up, if need be, in a wheelchair, perhaps in Dean Kamen's iBOT - it even has the right name!-- tricked out with Apple hardware, than to simply not be there.

Note that the blog is dated December 17th, five days sfter the non-news stor that the iBOT is no longer going to be available.

2) an article from the San Jose Mercury News from December 6th entitled Wish Book: Striving for independence, a story about how Ron Wexler's wheelchair is falling apart, and his dream chair is an iBOT. It concludes with the following text:

But the wheelchair, which employs three computers and six gyroscopes, costs $23,500. And an extra charger that Wexler could keep at work would cost another $550. Wexler has scheduled an iBOT test drive this month, during which a therapist will confirm that he is able to properly control the machine. Wexler is confident, but if the test drive doesn't work out, he would still need a similarly priced power wheelchair to guarantee his independence.

Wish Book readers' donations in increments of $50 can help make that happen for Wexler and ensure that his co-workers continue to benefit from his good nature and designer coffee.

FWIW, both the price of the chair (the iBOT is actually $26,100) and the spare charger (only $225 refurbished, which is almost certinly good enough for the second charger) reported aren't exactly right. A good example of professionalism and good fact checking from newspapers.Since the assessment is scheduled already he stands a chance of getting the chair if they get the money in before March.

3) a very poorly timed article in InventorSpot from December 1st by Beth Hodgson entitled The Year in Review: 2008’s Top Industries for New Businesses, which includes the following gem:

 

4. The Mobility Product Industry

This industry rolls up under senior care, so I needn't say why breaking into this industry is a good idea. New technology to improve the market of motorized scooters, wheelchairs, ramps and lifts are always becoming available; however, ‘interesting' or ‘unique' are terms that MOSTLY do not apply.

I did say mostly; the IBOT 4000 Mobility System definitely ticks both of these boxes. It's essentially a wheelchair, but inventors of this product have taken it to a level seniors have never seen before, and in some ways I mean that literally. Even sitting in this device, seniors are at eye level, they can climb stairs, curbs and travel across just about any terrain. While this innovative product was not introduced in 2008, the newly released model included some great improvements like a fold-and-store design, more comfortable armrests and supports.

Wow, I wonder if they would have talked about it like such a top industry/business example if they knew that the company was getting out of the industry/business in half a decade?

Anyway, I guess we can blame Independence Technology for not issuing a press release -- had they done so, the news sites would doubtless have picked up the news. Note that regular web searches can find news (just include the number 2013  in your search and you'll find more articles covering the announcement that is now "news"....

I know that the folks at Independence Technology are working on a better plan here to talk about all of the issues here in more intelligent and reassuring ways. I guess in some ways it was handled better than the WinFS Update marking the death of WinFS, but from the point of view of an owner of the technology, in some ways it was worse.

Because although WinFS did fall, I never paid to have it keep me upright. Something that definitely happened with the iBOT.

And of course we can blame the stupidity and ugliness that is the default behavior of insurance companies. Since it is the underlying cause of this problem. You know, the jerks who figure dignity is found in the dictionary somewhere between dickhead and dumbass and treat their patients (who they could help) as not being worthy of having human dignity unless they are capable of standing up for themselves, literally....

 

This post brought to you by (U+267f, a.k.a. WHEELCHAIR SYMBOL)


# ray on 20 Dec 2008 9:08 AM:

This is terrible news to me, since even though I'm not in the market for a scooter, your previous blogs have convinced me that the iBOT is one of mankind's greatest inventions! Are they going to make you cease "marketing activites" too?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 20 Dec 2008 9:10 AM:

They can't -- I'll keep talking.... :-)

# John Cowan on 20 Dec 2008 4:11 PM:

<i>Had I not been a wheelchair capable of handling curbs so easily</i>

First you're Mr. Kaplan, now you're a wheelchair???

Will wonders never cease?

Anyhow, people don't usually send out press releases about how their marketing sucks and their prices are too high for the market and they are now going out of business.  Not even when they really should.

# Robert Huml on 20 Dec 2008 4:39 PM:

I just received my iBOT a month ago, what a shock!  Not sure what I'm going to do.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 20 Dec 2008 5:19 PM:

Hang in there Robert. Not much is actually going to change here, in the end, for people who are iBOT owners. The people who are screwed are the ones who want to get one but don't make it through the process in time....

# Michael S. Kaplan on 20 Dec 2008 5:41 PM:

Hey John,

I took the route of blaming Independence Technology for their poor communication on the situation rather than the larger flaw in not only "Google News" but really news services in general in reporting information. But one could certainly go that way.

One could even go further and point out the ready availability of things like Google News make newspapers and other news sources seem less attractive to customers. Yet this is ironic because as newspapers fold the service that is provided will get worse since things like Google News are just aggregating the news sources that they are essentially undercutting (biting the hands that feed them?).

But I was focusing on issues and steps that Johnson & Johnson could have taken here to improve the experience for the people who are their customers, if not for the world at large, some of whom are interested....

Barbara on 29 Dec 2008 9:46 PM:

My brother is very upset.  He was in the pipeline to get one (approved by the IBOT  PT, had the script, had funding approval) and he finds out about this by his voc rehab, not by his rep at IBOT.  He's still waiting for a call back, and not sure if he will ever get one.  

Kristen on 29 Dec 2008 10:43 PM:

I was really excited about the iBot for my son. We thought that by the time he turned 10(about a year and a half from now) he would meet the minimum weight requirements for the iBot. He uses a Permobil chair right now and has used it since he was 3 and a half years old.

It is pretty sad that J & J hasn't marketed the chair to the pediatric users.

Hopefully someone else will decide to "fight" with insurance, Medicare and Medicaid to make this chair available to more people. I can't understand why it is so difficult for those agencies to approve the cost of the iBot...there are other devices currently being approved and financed that are as expensive or more expensive and not nearly as progressive or functional in providing independence as the iBot seems to prvide its users.

What a shame that the governments red tape is able to hinder the indepndence of so many because of it's inability to think outside of the "box".

Oakley Frogskins sunglasses on 28 Jun 2011 3:00 AM:

Hopefully someone else will decide to "fight" with insurance, Medicare and Medicaid to make this chair available to more people. I can't understand why it is so difficult for those agencies to approve the cost of the iBot...there are other devices currently being approved and financed that are as expensive or more expensive and not nearly as progressive or functional in providing independence as the iBot

Michael S. Kaplan on 28 Jun 2011 6:34 AM:

It's a mindset problem, mostly -- insurance (including Medicare and Medicaid) is looking to make people comfortable in their homes, not comfortable going out and interacting with the world. So they care about stuff like getting around the house and reaching cupboards rather than jumping high curbs and driving on rough terrain....


referenced by

2010/03/21 My thoughts on the health care thing (given my life, my multiple sclerosis, and my iBot)

2009/01/08 After calling the airline, iBOT a ticket to Vegas!

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