‘Heartache Medication’ Songwriter Barry Dean Pushes New Wheelchair Tech


Songwriters invent for a living, but Nashville’s Barry Dean (“Heartache Medication,” “Pontoon”) ventured into a new realm with the development of a wheelchair mobility device that could prevent thousands of injuries to seniors and disabled people.

Dean co-founded LUCI with his Denver-based brother, chief technical officer Jered Dean, launching a smart device with cloud-based alerts that help prevent users from tipping their wheelchairs or banging into walls and other objects. Wheelchair accidents resulted in more than 175,000 hospital visits in 2010, according to the National Library of Medicine, and 30,000 of those required the patient to be admitted.

The device was a labor of love for Barry. Frequent co-writer Troy Verges (“Day Drinking,” “Wanted”) had a grandmother who suffered multiple injuries in a wheelchair accident, and it raised concerns for Barry, whose 19-year-old daughter, Katherine Dean, was born with cerebral palsy and has lived her entire life in a power chair. Barry hoped he could find an adapter that would solve tipping and collision issues, but none existed.

“We realized that if this was going to happen, we needed to do it,” he says. “It felt like it had been given to us to do — I don’t know how else to say it — so that’s when we officially sort of kicked it off and went to work.”

Thanks in part to Barry’s contacts in the music industry and Jered’s product-design history, which includes rockets and dialysis machines, they built a team to handle the production and legal aspects of LUCI, a system that attaches to the best-selling power chairs. It incorporates a sensor, developed in tandem with Texas Instruments, that Barry says is the first nonautomotive millimeter-wave radar device. LUCI uses cloud technology to gauge stability and mobility, and it also provides battery-usage information, which is surprisingly rare in the power-chair industry.

LUCI has obvious safety benefits, and its accident prevention may extend the life of the wheelchair, too. But it also provides psychological support for the user.

“The wheelchair is more than just a thing,” explains Barry. “It becomes a part of their body image. We know, after three years of study, it’s independence and mobility and freedom. That’s what it represents.”

The company is marketing LUCI to a network of clinics and taking preorders for delivery in the fall with a suggested retail price of $8,445.

Katherine inspired Barry to write “God’s Will,” a song that became his first hit when Martina McBride released it in 2004. Now Katherine is key in developing an additional business that brings its own level of inspiration.

“The clinicians are opening their doors,” notes Barry, “and saying, ‘We want this. We’ve been waiting for this.'”

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