Originally posted on SoundsLikeNashville
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Barry Dean has penned hits for Jon Pardi (“Heartache Medication”), Little Big Town(“Pontoon”) and Michael Ray (“Think a Little Less”), and now the esteemed songwriter has launched a new company to improve wheelchairs. Inspired by his daughter Katherine, who has been wheelchair-bound for most of her 19 years due to cerebral palsy, Dean has launched LUCI. With technology that helps prevent wheelchairs from tipping, avoids collision, and protects against drop offs, LUCI is the first of its kind.
“It’s dynamically sensing the world,” Dean says of the technology, which works with the top three wheelchair models and was created by engineers in Seattle and Denver. “We want riders to be at the front of the technology. There’s so much more to come. This is the first step and as we move forward, there’s going to be more exciting things with LUCI.”
For the past three-and-a-half years Dean has been working on the idea after co-writer Troy Verges shared that one of his loved ones suffered an injury from the same wheelchair Dean’s daughter had. “We found studies that showed 175,000 emergency room visits a year due to accidents with wheelchairs,” Dean says. Wanting to prevent his daughter future harm, Dean worked with his brother, Jered, to bring the idea and technology to life.
While in the testing phase, the brothers searched Craigslist to find used wheelchairs to crash test the technology and software their team built. Jared and his wife picked up the first chair from an older woman in Colorado who lost her husband, Bruce, following his battle with ALS. The couple initially bought the chair with the hope that Bruce would spend his final days on their porch looking at the mountains. The first time they used it, the wheelchair drove into the wall and hurt his wife’s leg and they never used it again. So moved by the story, the LUCI team decided to name the wheelchair Bruce.
“We shared that story with our engineers so they could get a more three-dimensional understanding of what people are living with,” Dean explains. “We bought another chair. It was a pediatric chair, and that family had stitched Jordan’s name on the chair. From that point on, [we decided] our chairs are going to have names when we’re testing. It gave us a more human center to what we were doing.”
After years of collaborating with clinical professionals and logging over 25,000 hours of user testing, LUCI will be available for purchase this fall. With cloud-based communications and alerts, LUCI works with Hey Google and Amazon Alexa so users can interact with the system by using their voice. The MyLUCI portal is available for both iOS and Android phones, and for desktop. The suggested retail price of the technology is $8,445.
The first technology of its kind, Dean says the goal now is to get the word out and make the LUCI platform available for more wheelchair models. Dean has seen the support firsthand from the country community with artists like Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Hillary Scott, Natalie Hemby, Brandy Clark and Mary Steenburgen sharing information on LUCI via social media.
“One of the big problems in the industry is how do we get the word out to people who are living with a disability, or the people who care and love them, who are around it? When someone who has such a large platform to share stories like that, it really helps us reach more people that might find it,” he says.