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While we don’t want anyone to need a motorized wheelchair, chairs like Whill’s Model F integrate well with Apple technologies and keep people mobile when they need it. Here’s what it’s like to use one.
I don’t need this chair, so a little preamble is in order. If you followed me AppleInsider from an earlier post that has since succumbed to rot, you may have a vague recollection of reading that my wife had a stroke in the summer of 2015.
She survived the stroke, but did not come out unscathed. The damage from the stroke resulted in cut off left-sided vision, general left-sided weakness and lack of control, and impaired mobility. She is not profoundly cognitively impaired and can still walk short distances unassisted, more so than a cane or half walker.
It is now seven years later. Things didn’t get better on their own, and we had to adapt and embrace technology to help.
We started with a collapsible wheelchair, but these are almost universally terrible. Most affordable motorized mobility assist devices weigh 100 pounds or more and are impractical without a ramped van which essentially doubles the price of new vans or minivans in the United States.
Over time we purchased an Air Hawx wheelchair, but even that didn’t suit our needs, especially when we had two wheelchairs to pack. It was lighter than “hoveround” style devices, but still not lightweight, and the heavy lead-acid battery was not optimal.
About a year ago I saw Apple’s Meg Frost in an electric wheelchair from Whill, although it was a different model than this one. I contacted the company earlier this year, and they are lending us one to try.
And, so far, in the little time we’ve had Whill Chair Model Fit has already changed everything.
Whill Model F – Specifications
|Features||While the model F|
|Width (inches)||21.8 to 23.8 wide|
|Length (inches)||36.8 in use,
|Seat Size (inches)||18|
|Arm Spacing (inches)||16, 18|
|Turning radius (inches)||30.7|
|Scope of practice||Up to 20 km (12.4 mi)|
|Top speed||6km/h (3.7mph)|
|Battery||25.3V 10Ah Lithium Ion|
|Loading time||5 hours|
Whill Model F – Construction And Transport
The Whill Model F is a compact and highly mobile electric chair, specially designed for travel. At less than 60 pounds, it’s easy to pack and transport between locations.
It’s designed around a large cylindrical drum that houses the motors between the rear wheels, with arms rising up to a seat and connecting to a lighter front section. As the chair folds as the front wheels fold closer to the main body, it becomes a much smaller chair that can more easily fit into a trunk.
We have a minibus, because we have children. It’s an easy throw in the back.
Measuring up to 23.8 inches at its widest and up to 36.8 inches in length, it’s a relatively compact electric chair. The length shrinks to half the size when folded, at 18.3 inches.
The folding action increases the height of the chair, but not that much. It goes from 31.5 inches when extended to 33.6 inches when folded, making it a very compact stored chair overall.
It’s also quite light for such a chair at 58.8 pounds. That includes the weight of the lithium-ion battery, which alone weighs 5.9 pounds.
This is where it all changed. When you do not have a wheelchair equipped with a ramp, the caretaker must move the wheelchair in and out of the trunk or tailgate of the vehicle.
So when you want or need to go somewhere, the logistical discussion centers around that. And, I’m no longer a young man – a 20 pound difference over competitors, and a nearly 26 pound difference with the battery removed, that means a lot in this context.
Due to this light weight compared to other chairs, it is easy to carry a second battery in a backpack or sling under the chair. At around $550 per battery, however, budget may be the limiting factor.
The controller can be positioned on the left or right, depending on which hand the user wishes to operate the chair with. This is something best done once and left as is.
For those needing to cross the country, Whill has also ensured air travel is approved. To comply with the regulations, you remove the battery before putting the wheelchair back in the hold, then you take the battery into the cabin.
While curb appeal isn’t strictly a crux for people who need a wheelchair, it’s not a detractor – the Whill Model F is, in fact, curb appeal. There are not a multitude of visible wires meandering everywhere, nor a steel edifice like some are. The chair itself has clean lines, with side panels for color customization.
The Model F side panels are available in a choice of five colors, including black, white, light green, light blue and red.
Moving around in the Whill F model
The Whill Model F has a weight limit of 253.5 pounds for passenger and cargo. It has a seat width of 18 inches, with arm space ranging from 16 inches to 18 inches, to keep the user as comfortable as possible.
The arms are adjustable up and down, also for more comfort. It’s not something that’s push-button like folding the chair, but it’s okay. Once you set it up for the one time user, it won’t need to be adjusted much, if at all.
With a top speed of 3.7mph, it’s not a slow chair, but it also has a good range of up to 12.4 miles in ideal conditions. We’ve tested the battery several times, and the 12.4 miles is optimistic, but not by much. We routinely topped 10 miles on a single charge in the summer heat, and we’ll look into that in more detail when the weather cools down.
It can safely handle gentle inclines of up to 10 degrees, and it can also handle steps up to 1.3 inches in height. The small wheels on the back of the chair act as an anti-tip aid, but they aren’t perfect and won’t stop a tip over at a steep angle.
The 30.7-inch turning radius is very tight compared to other power chairs we’ve tried – so we managed tight turns in confined hallways and crowds without issue.
Like almost all motorized wheelchairs, it is rear-wheel drive. It will pivot without forward motion due to independent wheel traction, but it is easier to have forward motion to make those turns.
Whill Remote Control App
While the Whiil Model F is primarily user controlled, there is also the ability to manage the chair remotely from an iPhone.
The manufacturer’s companion appFree to download from the App Store, adds more chair control options to your iPhone.
There are configuration parameters to adjust the speed of the chair. Eco mode limits speed and responsiveness to preserve battery life, while Sport mode provides higher acceleration.
The app also provides an overview of chair movements, with an odometer, remaining battery level and remaining range information available at a glance.
You can even use the app to control the chair itself. Using Bluetooth, the app displays a digital version of the main control stick, which can be pushed in different directions just like the real thing.
The app allows the chair user to drive the chair to where they are, if desired. This also opens up other possibilities.
The Whill Model F is not well suited to goalie control without the remote. That said, in situations where the driver has trouble choosing a path due to the aforementioned reduced vision, I was able to take control (with permission, of course) and steer our exit.
The chair comes with a barcode for app login. Each device comes with a unique ID and code, combined with a QR code. As the company suggests, don’t stick the barcode sticker with this information on the chair itself.
We love the chair. It’s one of the best in the class. But there is much more to say about this.
There are certain products that within a few weeks let you know if it is a good product, who it is for and how it is best to use it. The Whill Model F is not quite that.
We know it’s good now. We also know that it is also a lifestyle device, although it is not a lifestyle that anyone would choose to deal with.
We will continue to evaluate the Whill and its degree of integration. So far, we’ve limited the chair’s use to exterior concrete environments and interior tile, wood, and carpeted surfaces. It’s not an all-terrain chair, so we won’t get bogged down in mud, but we haven’t used it on brick surfaces, cobblestones or hard-packed dirt yet.
There are also accessories to talk about, including exactly how to carry drinks, a walking stick, etc.
So there’s more to come on the Whill Model F later in the year. We thought talking about the Whill Model F now might help someone considering it for back to school and the like.
The Whill Model F sells for around $3,000, but prices vary by dealership and may or may not be partially or fully covered by insurance plans, which we leave to the reader as an exercise to be determined. Accessory prices also vary.