As the Baby Boomers hit retirement age, students at Case Western Reserve University are developing a smart wheelchair that can help people with mobility problems get around safely.
The Case School of Engineering project has come up with a very cool design. It’s controlled by an Xbox 360 controller and can automatically move around obstacles, even when the user is blindfolded. The chair has sensors and a laptop that will determine if what the user wants to do is safe or not. They’re also working on controlling the wheelchair by voice commands.
The next step is controlling the wheelchair using higher level commands. For example, if you wanted to go to a dining room using this chair, instead of issuing every little “turn right” and “turn left” command, you’d just say “go to the dining room” and the wheelchair would know where to go, opening doors and pressing elevator buttons while negotiating obstacles along the way. The Case researchers have already built a robot that can respond to these high-level commands, such as going to a vending machine.
This is an attempt to make power chairs much safer for the aging population of the United States (some retirement communities ban them altogether because of safety concerns).
This project looks promising. If the technology makes it out of the lab and into commercial production, it should allow anyone with a disability affecting mobility to live independently.
If you think this smart wheelchair is a cool design you’ll also probably enjoy the voice controlled wheelchair and a robotic wheelchair that automatically follows a human companion.