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Efforts of NOAA 3-1-8 Saginomiya, Nakano-ku, Tokyo
A Sleek, Compact Mobility Scooter That Delivers the Joy of Travel to People Who'd Given Up On It
Wanting to Change the "For the Physically Challenged" Image
NOAA Co., Ltd. had always dealt in nursing care beds and electric wheelchairs. In May 2020, it launched a new product: a compact, light, and stylish mobility scooter called NOAA MOBILE-X. The scooter was developed while listening to actual users—such as people with disabilities and the elderly—and by controlling everything in-house, from design, to manufacturing, to sales. Dispelling the existing image of "for the physically challenged" will reduce people's mental roadblocks and encourage them to travel. We spoke about the project to Mr. Motonari Nishihara of NOAA Co., Ltd., who was in charge of development.
Suitcase-Sized Portability, Universal Maneuverability, and a Sleek Design
Existing mobility scooters for seniors suffer from this strong negative image that they're for the elderly. Before we developed MOBILE-X, I'd also bought another company's mobility scooter for my elderly mother. However, she quickly abandoned using it because she did not like people looking at her like she was already old enough to use something like that. I thought, "This has to change," and came up with the idea of making a new product myself. That idea went on to trigger the development of MOBILE-X.
That's why I was so particular about the design. In fact, many people besides my mother told us they'd feel self-conscious using the existing products in town. That prompted us to choose a sophisticated metallic design for MOBILE-X. Now, when we test-drove it, people would gather round wanting to try it for themselves.
It also has excellent maneuverability. It has handlebars and built-in electromagnetic brakes, so even beginners can master it in no time, even going uphill effortlessly. When you go downhill, an automatic brake comes on, so that is safe, too.
And the biggest feature is its portability. Combining a compact lithium-ion battery and lightweight materials used in aircraft, we created a scooter that weighs about 20 kg, which is foldable, and so compact that it can fit neatly into a suitcase. You can easily put it in a car or take it on a bullet train or airplane, then use it at your destination. If you're coming from overseas, shipping a mobility scooter can be a problem, and arranging an electric wheelchair can also be difficult. I think MOBILE-X can solve these kinds of problems, too.
Discover Day-Trip Demand, and Create as Much Liveliness as Inbound Tourism
Many older people have handed in their driver's license, or they are thinking of doing so. I believe MOBILE-X can offer them an alternative to personal vehicles. The taxi industry told us that daytime occupancy rates are extremely low. However, I think the existence of elderly people, and people with mobility or visual impairments, is overlooked. Also, having no means of transportation might be forcing them to stay home whether they want to or not. For people like that, we can suggest putting this mobility scooter in a taxi, then assembling it once they have arrived at their destination. It takes about 10 seconds to assemble.
We're currently working on promoting the product, with the thinking that if we work with the taxi industry and tourist areas to establish rental services at travel destinations, we can create as much noise as inbound tourism.
Another perspective that is essential for accessible tourism is disaster prevention. Older people and people with disabilities are more likely to become what's called " evacuation vulnerable " in the event of an emergency. Having been given some advice through the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's consultation support, we're also planning to use the portable MOBILE-X for disaster prevention, and spread awareness of that aspect together with tourism.
Overcome Mental Roadblocks and Enjoy Traveling
We want our sleek, compact mobility scooter to deliver the joy of travel to people who'd given up on it. Impaired mobility can create a mental roadblock that discourages people from going places because they do not want to be a nuisance when they get there. In particular, people who normally use a cane can find it difficult to keep up with everyone else when they're on a trip, unless they have someone with them to help. MOBILE-X will help people get around on their own. It'll help them keep up with the group even on trips that involve walking around for long distances—travel they'd given up on.
However, we have not been able to fully advertise the product in terms of these merits yet, and also need to increase its level of recognition more. COVID-19 means we cannot do things the way we want to at the moment, but we're going to put energy into publicity in many different areas, with a view toward the post-COVID world where traveling will be popular again. Exhibiting at the Accessible Tourism Promotion Symposium also brought us connections with other exhibitors. We hope to contribute to accessible tourism by continuing to utilize our connections, in parallel with participating in exhibitions and establishing the rental business.
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