Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 2002," Dec. 7, 2002

He added: "Help us to forgive and forget any memories of strained relationships and debilitating differences." | Edward E. Plowman

Wheels of progress

Inventor Dean Kamen may open avenues for the disabled that the Americans with Disabilities Act couldn't begin to open. Mr. Kamen's latest invention--a wheelchair that can climb stairs--is on the FDA's fast-track review toward approval.

Mr. Kamen's iBOT 3000 mobility system has wheels that are all the same size (instead of the standard big back wheels and small front wheels.) The wheels rotate up and over one another to go up and down steps. Sensors and gyroscopes help maintain balance. The iBOT can also shift into four-wheel drive to scoot uphill. Its booster power elevates its occupant to ease conversation and reaching shelves.

Once given FDA approval, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary called Independence Technology will make the chair. Initially, at least, the iBOT will be expensive, with an expected $29,000 price tag. The FDA is also likely to require both a prescription and a training course for users.

Researchers say the iBOT will be a great help to those who can use it. A panel of FDA advisers unanimously approved it, which means it has strong prospects. Part of the iBOT's application process involved a two-week test to see if it was safe enough for the average person. Scientists tracked 20 test users on both experimental and regular wheelchairs. This included a road test with grassy hills, bumpy sidewalks, high shelves, and steep stairs. | Chris Stamper

A better way to buy?

Is it a step toward a cashless society or is it high-tech overkill? Bank of America wants to put its card on customers' keychains with a new project called QuickWave.

The QuickWave card resembles the small membership cards of some video stores and supermarket discount programs. The customer scans his card, and then a receipt quickly pops out of the register. There's nothing to sign and no PIN code to enter.

Yet QuickWave is neither a credit, debit, nor smart card. The user links the QuickWave to a bank credit card or debit card and the charges show up on the customer's bank statement. QuickWave users can also set spending limits and restrict use to certain merchants.

The market test for QuickWave is going on now near the bank's headquarters in Charlotte. The bank equipped two dozen downtown businesses to accept the card and gave cards to 10,000 employees to use while shopping or buying lunch. Next year, bank executives will decide whether to go national with QuickWave.

Skeptics of QuickWave note that consumers already have multiple ways to pay for products. But similar cards are already a big hit for ExxonMobil under the name Speedpass. These keychain danglers let people quickly fill up at the gas pump or buy convenience store items without fumbling in their wallets. | Chris Stamper

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