Evolving wheelchairs, LifeHub’s next-gen mobility can move even over bumps or stairs

From left: Toru Akaura (Incubate Fund), Hiroshi Nakano (LifeHub), Hirofumi Kondo (CyberAgent Capital)

See the original story in Japanese.

Tokyo-based LifeHub, the Japanese startup developing a chair-type mobility that can stretch its legs to move in bipedal motion like human, announced on Tuesday that it has secured 100 million yen (about $870,000) from CyberAgent Capital and Incubate Fund in a seed round. This follows their previous pre-seed round securing 30 million yen (about $260,000) from Incubate Fund.

LifeHub was launched back in 2021 by three founders. Having been fascinated with building robots since he was a child, CEO Hiroshi Nakano studied robotics and drones at university, and later worked at one of the world’s largestcomputer-aided engineering vendor where he was involved in mobility development and research. CTO Kazuhiro Nomiya designs and develops biomechanics and artificial muscles while CSO Yasuhiro Arakawa specializes in control systems and autonomous driving.

The company advocates human augmentation. Unlike conventional wheelchairs, Transella, their flagship product, is able to crouch, stand up, climb over steps, and ride escalators. The mobility is mainly comprised of parts made in Japan which excels in miniaturization technology. It can solve the problems of conventional wheelchairs because of its extended mobility of not only horizontal but also vertical range of movement.

The conceptual image of Transella
Image credit: LifeHub

Toru Akaura, one of the representative partner at Incubate Fund, decided to invest in the mobility startup’s first funding round (pre-seed round). He says,

I couldn’t believe it when I heard a lot of ideas from Nakano-san for the first time. But he passionately said “We can do it,” so I bet 30 million yen on them. And his team created the half-size prototype. I’m very much in love with their ability to make things happen.

Hirofumi Kondo, President and CEO of CyberAgent Capital participating in the latest round, first met LifeHub’s Nakano last year at Incubate Camp, an annual entrepreneurship bootcamp program organized by Incubate Fund. In the event, Kondo mentored Nakano and then won the third place of the Capitalist Award which lets entrepreneurs evaluate capitalists as mentors. Kondo says,

Still in a seed round, so we decided our investment based on not only technical or business advantage but also on his personal character. We can help make their business global.

Kondo introducing LifeHub’s Nakano as mentors at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

LifeHub is not the first robotics startup aiming to assist people’s movements, but many of conventional solutions are not suitable for daily use due to cumbersome wearing or installation process. Because of its shape, the mobility device can be used by anyone by simply sitting down to move even on stairs, steep slopes, and rough roads, so it must have a huge need all over the world. The company plans to use the funds to develop a full-scale model of the product by this spring but the global semiconductor shortage may impact their schedule or force them to push it back.

The company is about to set its business model, likely starting with a high-function wheelchair for the elderly and physically challenged. In the future, they are aiming to make it used for climbing stairs, autonomous driving, sharing mobility services for business-to-business use as well as global business expansion. For now, the company plans to offer a unit of the wheelchair for 1.5 million yen (about $13,000) for purchase, or 10,000 yen (about $86) per month on a subscription basis for nursing care, but the price may vary greatly as they have completed no full-scale prototype yet.

Nakano delivers his pitch at Incubate Camp 14th.
Image credit: Masaru Ikeda

We’ve seen more than a few startups developing smart wheelchairs, mobility devices, and robots for transportation, but LifeHub’s mobility clearly takes a different approach in terms of moving like a vehicle as well as human bipedal movement. Based on the potential of the technology and the business, Akaura and Kondo praised Nakano, saying that he might be “Elon Mask from Japan”.

Akaura concluded our conversation with saying,

This will be a world-class product. I believe that Nakano has the potential to lead the world from Japan.