April 13th,

Bringing Smart Mobility For Everyone


Bringing Smart Mobility For Everyone

WHILL / ウィル

Hirata Yoshihiro
Mechanical Engineer Director


The traveling landscape of WHILL

Reasons behind joining WHILL

I’ll first introduce by discussing how I got into WHILL.

I have been a mechanical designer from the very beginning. My major was Mechanical Engineering where I studied automobile design. I loved automobiles and wanted to become an engineer, so I kept studying and studying. Eventually, I was given the opportunity to develop at an automobile parts manufacturing company. At this point, I launched a project team dedicated to creating concept models for motor shows, etc.

One time, I was involved in putting together a project with Kiyoyuki Okayama who was working on designs for Ferrari. We then challenged ourselves to make the existing brake as stylish as possible and presented our product at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show. What happens when you implement design to the brake (a place in which most people don’t hold interest in)? With this specific intention in mind, we wanted to try and improve design base for details.

This year, WHILL was displayed in the same motor show. Upon researching, I found out that a band of members – who all share a love for making things – would get together on the weekends and create it. I was shocked to find that people with that amount of grit are here in Japan. WHILL was always somewhere in the corner of my mind.

However, I continued to watch the progression of WHILL without contemplating switching jobs. I witnessed that they were evolving year after year. My initial thoughts turned from “their concept stands out but it looks hard to use…” to “it looks rideable now that it’s 3-wheeled” a year later. The year after, WHILL had progressed to 4 wheels and looked to be in perfect condition to ride.

Just as I had thought “Wow, these guys are the real deal. It’d be amazing to work with them”, a single mechanical engineer position had opened. I then became an official member of WHILL in the spring of 2014.

Before the birth of WHILL


WHILL began its roots with a single phrase that Sugie heard from a wheelchair user:
“I give up going to the convenience store 100 meters from here.”

There are two reasons for this.
I heard that story and thought “this is it”:



“Design your own road”
Aiming for sleek, entertaining movement for all users



These are our own words.

WHILL’s three strengths are design, running performance, and software.

A stylish design that entices one to ride it. It has changed the face of the standard wheelchair.

“Running Performance”
A normal wheelchair is even vulnerable to a 2-3 centimeter slope difference. In contrast, WHILL is able to ride up slopes. 24 rollers are attached around the entire perimeter, enabling one to move vertically in the direction of travel. Therefore, rotation is also possible on the spot.

The rollers are onmi wheels which results in a larger radius . Hence, one can overcome low dips in landscape such as puddle tracks, etc. One is also able to ride over gravel roads at places like shrines.

Using Bluetooth and iOS, one can move like an RC vehicle. Utilizing a 3G network and GPS, as well as a GPU (a semiconductor chip which conducts image processing) and deep learning, it is my ambition to pave the way for autonomous driving on sidewalks.

WHILL’s Potential

Up until now, the wheelchair has existed as a means of assisting those with difficulty moving. In fact, I believe that WHILL is a tool which expands people’s potential for movement. If WHILL makes people want to get out and get going, then it has succeeded its purpose. In essence, I want to redefine the value of movement.

Tokyo Motor Show 2015

When presenting at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show and the 2016 Future of Urban and Retail Development Expo, I was asked many times “So is this a wheelchair?” We answer this question by saying “It’s personal mobility.” We manufacture WHILL based on international wheelchair standards. As such, one is able to ride on public roads and streets in most countries.

Another question we get is “So is this a concept model then?” People are further surprised when we tell them that it is mass-produced. We have Yanase, Checker Motors, Paris Miki, etc. as a point of sale. Also, WHILL was recently used at the Rhizomatiks Research × ELEVENPLAY concert “Border” held at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Minato Mirai District, Yokohama City.

Rhizomatiks Research × ELEVENPLAY「border」

How is one able to manipulate WHILL then? Well, we hack it by provisioning a circuit board which allows for external input. Each model has an individual marking. By recognizing the markings via motion capture, we operate all 10 units codependently.

After the performance, the units return to the exact same spot, so there is no need to touch them. Their potential is further actualized when you consider the fact that their battery life only depletes 10 to 20 percent.

In the near future, I would love to see WHILL as a component of city infrastructure, placed in tourist spots and airports, that bridges the gap between walking and riding a bicycle.


Real-life implementation of WHILL

From the audience In regards to autonomous driving, I think that it would be more difficult to implement for sidewalks than car streets. How are you researching this?

Due to the fact that people walk within close proximity, we can’t allow for any blind spots no matter how small they are. As such, we are conducting research with focus on image processing via GPU.

From the audience You mentioned that one would be able to operate WHILL from a distant location by using Bluetooth. What is the practical use of this?

That’s a great question. It is so that the user’s caregiver can be side-by-side with them. The user will find it heartfelt once they experience it. You see, pushing someone from behind a wheelchair and walking right next to them are two very different things.

From the audience It was also mentioned that there is a function for WHILL to move in the direction of a marker placed at a distant location.

It appears that people are curious as to whether or not that function can be used for on-site navigation. Let me explain by stating that it is possible for the marker to lead the way as WHILL follows pursuit.

In closing, how about we go ahead and demonstrate moving the WHILL around on stage?

The seat can be slid up to the front. There are two pros to this. Firstly, it makes it easier to get in and get out of the seat from places like a bed or a sofa. Secondly, it enables one to move closer to a desk once situated. Among users, some praise how “since you’re able to move the seat forward, you can enjoy your meal without having to slouch over.”

Alright then, let’s have everyone go ahead and take a spin!


Dentsu Lab Tokyo