A Smarter Scooter

Amigo Mobility’s new infrared sensor system helps prevent scooter accidents.

The owners and operators of assisted living facilities and retirement villages strive to create a genuine sense of community for the seniors under their care, and like any good community, ensuring safety for seniors is a key aspect of that undertaking. However, when scooters are being used at the facility, accidents can ensue. So the dilemma becomes how to ensure safety while preserving that sense of community and freedom.

That’s the very problem Amigo Mobility has tried to solve with its SmartSensor impact avoidance system for its scooters.

“If you run a community of, say, 300 elderly ladies and gentlemen, you have to be concerned about residents being hurt,” says Dietrich Mackel, vice president of sales for Amigo. “You’re responsible for the building, and you’re probably concerned about liability in case one of your residents runs into somebody else.

“You want to have your residents being mobile, because it is part of their life,” he continues. “If you take their mobility away, you will isolate your people, and that does not lead to a healthy community. So you have to give them tools that allow them to safely be mobile.”

Enter the SmartSensor

In 2005 Amigo Mobility was contacted by a retirement community in Pennsylvania that was concerned about its tenants driving on POVs and causing property damage or causing near accidents. The retirement community asked Amigo if it had a solution to make these scooters safer. After four years of development, Amigo Mobility produced an infrared sensor system that basically detects an obstacle in front of the Amigo and stops the scooters to avoid a collision.

“Instead of an abrupt stop which would shake the driver, it gently slows the unit down,” Mackel explains. “If you drive toward a wall full speed the unit will not let you hit the wall. It will slow you down and bring you to a gradual stop.”

In terms of range, an array of five sensors projects an arc in front of the vehicle that detects obstacles up to 30 inches ahead of the Amigo, which is far enough to slow the unit and prevent a collision, but not so far that the POV becomes difficult to use. If the user avoids the object, it speeds up again.

Mackel says the market sweet spot for the Smart Sensor will be at retirement communities and assisted living centers because of the increased safety need.

“You have a lot of people, a lot of POVs, a lot of disabilities,” he says. “If you’re outside at a park, the chance that you will run into a tree is small compared to the chance of running into a nurse or a wall at your community lunch room.

“It’s not that it hinders your way or your speed. It takes care of the immediate object,” he says.

How it Works

The sensor functions not unlike a safety sensor on a garage door opener. The sensor sends out an infrared signal and if it reflects off an obstruction, it will send a signal back to the controller. The control, when it receives the signal, will slow the unit down, regardless of whether the user tries to engage the speed lever on the tiller. The controller will also release that limitation once the user avoids the object (or the object moves from the scooter’s path). This is important because the controller takes over in instances when the user might panic or fumble or at the controls; patients can’t override the safety feature.

Where compatibility is concerned, the SmartSensor is intended for Amigos only, and is available as a factory option for a wide variety of current models, and can be retrofitted on some, more recent model rear-drive Amigos with a high/low speed control knob, as well. Retrofitting could be a good market opportunity for providers that have solid relationships with assisted living facilities and similar locations with large numbers of scooters, Mackel says.

Installation

Installation of the SmartSensor as a retrofit is a relatively straightforward process. The pre-assembled sensor array is fastened to the bottom of the tiller of the Amigo, and its electronics are connected to the new controller, which replaces the previous unit. The controller is also connected to the rechargeable battery so that it runs off the scooter’s power. Amigo Mobility provides installation instruction to its dealers. There is no required maintenance for the system, Mackel says.

In terms of price, the Smart Sensor is available as an option on new Amigo scooters for $250, and the retrofit is available for $450. The retrofit would not be covered by Medicare, but if the SmartSensor is on a POV that is Medicare reimbursable then it the cost would be an addition or an upcharge.

With the growing population of elderly and the growing, Mackel says providing additional safety will be key in ensuring they enjoy not only personal mobility, but also personal safety: “It’s the right thing to do right now.”


Amigo Mobility International Inc.
(800) 821-2710, ext 245
www.myamigo.com

 

 

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

David Kopf is the Publisher and Executive Editor of HME Business and DME Pharmacy magazines. Follow him on Twitter at @postacutenews.

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