Video: WHILL Turns Ordinary Wheelchairs Into Electric Superchairs

Japanese company WHILL’s eponymous product is one of those things that’s so smart that it’s almost annoying that no one has done this before. WHILL, which debuted recently at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, is a prototype aftermarket drive train that attaches externally to an ordinary wheelchair, augmenting it with electrically powered drive.

The design is simple: two circular hubs–connected by a central bar that goes up and over the seat of the wheelchair–attach to the outside of a wheelchair’s wheels. Powered by a lithium-ion battery, those hubs impart drive to the wheels, making the manual a wheelchair an electrically powered machine. To drive, the user simply leans or pushes on the crossbar, nudging it in the direction he or she wants to go.

A two hour charge can get about 19 miles of distance, and WHILL is no slouch when it comes to speed either, topping out at just more than 12 miles per hour. The device is still in prototype so cost info isn’t yet available, and that will likely be the determining factor dictating whether or not something like this takes off. Regardless, an electric-powered augmentation that amps up an ordinary wheelchair? Very cool.