Comeback kid: Will it be second time’s a charm for iBOT?

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Friday, August 2, 2019

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Mobius Mobility expects to relaunch the iBOT personal mobility device some time this fall, nearly 10 years after Johnson & Johnson stopped making the device. Here’s what Lucas Merrow, who has been helping Dean Kamen relaunch the iBOT, had to say about the device’s second coming.

HME News: You worked on the iBOT the first time around, too, right?

Luke Merrow: I did. I worked with Dean and DEKA Research and Development up until we handed it off to J&J and then I moved on to other things. It was my dream project. I thought we were done; I thought we made a great effort to turn it into a business. Then they stopped making it and sold the rights back to Dean for $1. He never gives up.

HME: Why couldn’t J&J build a successful business around the iBOT?

Merrow: I never would criticize J&J because they were incredible in terms of their support—financially, obviously, but it was more than that, they gave us access to their best people. They really put an amazing amount of effort and resources around the machine and what it came down to is, it was just before its time.

HME: How long did they build the iBOT?

Merrow: They built the iBOT 3000 from 2003-05 and the 4000 from 2005-09. To their credit, they supported the machines in the field for another five years, well after the warranty was up.

HME: How is this new iBOT different than the original?

Merrow: It looks kind of similar, but it’s new technology—everything is different. It’s a lot lighter—it has lost about 80 pounds. The electronics have been updated—it has a lithium ion battery.

HME: What’s your plan to make the iBOT successful this time around?

Merrow: One thing that is different is that it’s now a Class II medical device. One of the things that hamstrung J&J was that the iBOT was first approved as a Class III medical device, because there was nothing else out there like it. You couldn't change the machine without going back to the FDA, which was expensive and time consuming. So they were limited to a couple of seating options. Now that there’s a predicate and there are years and years of operating, that’s changed.

HME: What else is different?

Merrow: We’re going direct distribution, which is the opposite of what J&J did. We’re starting small. We’re asking customers to come to Manchester, where we have a cool training facility with an obstacle course. People will come here to get the machine after they go through the appropriate steps with their physician and their PT or OT.

HME: What about distribution through HME providers?

Merrow: We’re open to working with dealers. If we can, great; if we can’t, we’ll focus on the larger metro areas and we have a model here that we can replicate and roll out in those areas.

HME: The iBOT is a cash product?

Merrow: We don’t have Medicare coverage. We are going through the process of getting VA coverage—they tend to be more supportive. Some people have had luck raising money or getting help from third-party nonprofits.

HME: How much will the iBOT cost?

Merrow: $30,000 to start.

HME: Do you have an official relaunch date?

Merrow: We’re close. The only reason we haven’t pushed out a date yet is we have big supply chain vendors across the world and we’re waiting for some parts to come in. The iBOT shares more with a Tesla or an aircraft than it does with a wheelchair. The electronics are in high demand. Our factory is done, and we have ordered parts and materials for the first 1,000 machines. We’re hoping this fall, some time between September and October.