Bird tests motorized wheelchair attachment in NYC

Shared micromobility company Bird is launching a limited pilot to test a battery-powered attachment for wheelchairs in an effort to increase accessible mobility for persons with disabilities.

The new “adaptive program” will be a part of the New York City e-scooter pilot in the Bronx, which is being expanded this summer. Individuals in the pilot area can apply for the program and if they qualify, someone from the Bird team will meet them in person to deliver the attachment, set it up and show them how to use it.

“The installation process takes 30 minutes to an hour with a Bird technician,” a Bird spokesperson told TechCrunch. “After the initial installation, the device should latch on and off a wheelchair in seconds.”

The adaptive program comes a few months after Bird expanded its on-demand accessible mobility program with Scootaround, which allows persons with disabilities to find, reserve and pay for certain accessible vehicles.

Competitor Lime has a similar accessibility program called Lime Able, which involves Lime home-delivering (for 24-hour rentals) adaptive vehicles, like three-wheeled scooters or scooters with a seat, to disabled persons or those who are less confident on the standard scooter.

Bird’s wheelchair attachment has a 350-watt motor, a lightweight removable li-on battery and separate forward and reverse throttles that can allow a rider to go up to 12 miles per hour, according to Bird. The company says the attachment helps riders more easily navigate inclines and long distance trips through the city.

“Bird’s adaptive program is already helping me move faster and accomplish more,” said Bronx resident Eduardo Hernandez, one of the first program participants, in a statement. “The new speed is awesome. It makes supermarket visits and other errands significantly easier, and it’s incredibly useful with uphill climbs that would otherwise be very tiring.”

Many wheelchairs are paid for through insurance, so it’s unclear whether this kind of attachment would void warranties or be against insurance regulations, and Bird did not respond to requests for clarification on the matter. The company did, however, note that Bird is working with the NYC Department of Transportation, the NYC Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities and local New York City disability advocates to source participants.

The service is currently being offered free of charge to Bronx participants.