DRM wheelchairs take us nowhere

Originally published at: DRM wheelchairs take us nowhere | Boing Boing


Anything with DRM baked in is not something you’ll ever truly own, even if you paid full price for it. It’s natural that vulture capitalists and bust-out artists love this business model.


This is the type of thing that could actually kill DRM. They’d be wise to remove it from all wheelchairs lest it cause a big DRM backlash that might spill over to say, seeds.


Found your problem right there.

"Profiting from disability and making lives harder."

That’s their mission statement.
Prove me wrong.



Private equity-owned companies, bringing you yesterday’s satirical dystopia, today.


I was on a team that used a bariatric wheelchair as the base of an autonomous vehicle at City College in 2008. I did the motor controls design, and I found that for the sake of smooth control signals I was actually better off sending the velocity bits for the wheels via the hand controls (this also meant I didn’t have to re-engineer tank control). There were a lot of reasons that worked better - there was a dead band and the controls had a built in PID loop that made starts and stops a lot smoother than I could achieve with direct motor control (which I tried). After digging through the manual, I found a lot of the functionality was safety related (for example, there were auto-brakes that stopped the top ends of the motors where we wanted to connect encoders for reading position to the shafts, and they kicked in whenever they lost contact with the control handset.) That dead band was there because people with mobility problems also sometimes have difficulty with fine hand motions, and it is more forgiving than most controls.

Clearly it would be condescending of me to think that my 4 month experience measures up to that of people who need to use a power wheelchair every day - I imagine a lot of them would get really good at mods of this stuff that I never understood during my capstone design. But it’s also true that a lot of this stuff was much more difficult to modify than might be immediately obvious. So I’m sympathetic to ditching the DRM, but also would mention that a looot of the functionality here is safety related and so a good amount of this isn’t necessarily the normal fixit fuckery, but is also the manufacturers trying to prevent liability.

When we got to our IGVC competition in Michigan, we’d removed that auto-brake safety feature, so when our laptop lost contact for some reason the 200lb chair took off across the parking lot and rammed a car… we disappeared before we got to discover the novel legal problems with “who is driving? The operator? The coder?” We didn’t have to care because we hadn’t launched a person at that bumper.


DRM is where any pro-capitalist arguments about “freedom” come to a grinding halt. In this case literally so.

You can’t rationally argue that some entrepreneur’s profit margin is more important than his customer’s actual physical well-being and mobility. (Although I imagine some libertarians would try square that circle.)


Oh, you sweet summer child…

They have literally argued that the profit margin takes priority over life and limb, especially if the adverse effects do not affect them. I will say again, profit motivation has no place in healthcare, and that goes double for vulture capitalists.


And this matters to the (private equity) owners of the wheelchair builders … why?

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DRM wheelchairs take us nowhere

Nonsense! They take us to an approved service depot.

Regardless of any obstacles in the way.

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Well, I did specify “rationally”, Ron Paul saying “let the uninsured die” is not rational (to me anyway.) And I bet it would stop sounding rational to a libertarian who’s suddenly losing his house to pay for cancer treatments.

Agreed. I’d add that profit margin has no place in a lot of public service-- prisons for example.


The same is arguably true anytime you must sign a click-wrap license. They are explicitly designed to prevent you from getting the rights granted to the owner of a copy under copyright law. After all, DRM is just an enforcement measure, it does not grant them any new legal rights. And “ownership” as distinct from “posession.” constitutes a set of legal rights.


“Freedom” for these guys always starts just after the government has granted them monopoly power through copyright, or patent law, or even land title.


If anyone is foolish enough to get in the way of a Service Depot bound wheelchair, then that just gives another potential opportunity to sell rent someone a wheelchair!


Has anyone slapped a cheap cell modem on a DRM wheelchair to offer ‘metered mobility solutions’ yet? Seems like the ‘perfect’ market for a pay-as-you-go-if-you-want-to-keep-going pricing model!


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