Apart from climbing stairs, Johnson & Johnson’s iBOT wheelchair can also balance on two wheels, enabling its passenger to engage in eye-level conversations and reach objects on high-up shelves.

The price-tag will be around $29,000 and the product should be available in three or four months, the manufacturer said.

Only time will tell if the device will sell well, but there are an estimated 2 million people in the United States who use wheelchairs.

Jean-Luc Butel, president of Johnson & Johnson unit Independence Technology, said the iBOT's cost was not as high as some specialized wheelchairs on the market.
 
Additionally, the iBOT saves people from having to spend thousands of dollars modifying their homes with ramps, elevators or other accommodations.

How it works

The iBOT, conceived by world-famous inventor Dean Kamen, uses gyroscopes, electronic sensors and computers to help mimic the way people maintain their balance, and adjusts to each movement.

Kamen later used the same technology in his famous Segway scooter.

The iBOT also has a four-wheel-drive mode for traversing rough terrain and climbing curbs, and can scoot through 7cm of water.

The iBOT will be available only with a prescription. Patients must receive training in how it operates and pass tests showing they can use it safely, the Food and Drug Administration said.

Disabled reaction

Alan Brown, who was paralyzed 15 years ago and recently test-drove the iBOT, called the device ground-breaking for the wheelchair-bound.

With the iBOT, he was able to take his son to the beach for the first time. "There are no boundaries in life anymore," he said, describing how the chair found little difficulty in dealing with sand or gravel.

"The feeling of being able to be upright ... and talking to people face to face - it's priceless," Brown added.