The lack of any feeling in one’s legs can prove to be a huge hurdle in leading a normal life. Many people in wheelchairs are dependent on others for completing even basic tasks. However, with modern inventions like the automatic wheelchair that moves with the help of a joystick, the lifestyle of physically disabled people has been slightly improved.
But what about those who don’t have control over their upper limbs either? Quadriplegia is one of the most extreme disabilities that one can incur. It renders all four limbs and the torso paralyzed, and people suffering from it cannot even move their wheelchairs around without external help.
Understanding this problem, Dinesh Pankaj from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in India has come up with a new wheelchair prototype, and all it needs is a touch to be operated.
An Ingenious Idea
Mr. Pankaj came up with the idea to rethink the automatic wheelchair when he saw that most of India’s disabled population couldn’t afford the conventional automated wheelchairs. The reason for this was that the control panels needed for such wheelchairs had to be imported from other countries. The scientist wanted not only to manufacture an automated wheelchair in India but also to come up with a more effective mobility solution for quadriplegics and paraplegics.
His idea was to design a wheelchair that would only need a touch to be moved around. Unlike the existing models where users need to hold and move a joystick around, this wheelchair, dubbed the Intelligent Patient Vehicle or IPV, would make use of a touchpad. This touchpad would work much like a smartphone’s touchscreen; users would only have to swipe in a certain direction to make the wheelchair move.
A Working Prototype
Mr. Pankaj has recently tested the IPV and is looking to bring the final model out to the masses soon. He says that using a locally built control panel allows the wheelchair to cost only Rs. 60,000, which is a big improvement when compared to conventional automated wheelchairs with price tags of around Rs. 150,000. This has made it very easy for people with weak limbs to operate their wheelchairs.
Mr. Pankaj is currently working on another variant of the wheelchair which will move based on the movement of one’s head. This is to help people suffering from quadriplegia, who wouldn’t be able to move their fingers across a touchpad.
Not Even a Touch Required
This variant of the IPV currently uses a camera attached to a laptop in order to find out the relative position of the user’s head from the screen. The computer then interprets the movement of one’s head as ‘left’ or ‘right’ and moves the wheelchair accordingly.
The next step for the scientist is to come up with a more refined way of tracking these movements, as a laptop hooked up to a camera can’t do the job on a daily basis. The second problem that needs to be resolved is how and when the wheelchair will know to stop, for safety concerns. This kind of safety measures are of the highest priority to Mr. Pankaj, and he is currently trying to ensure that they are incorporated in his designs.
The idea of having a wheelchair that needs only a touch or a nod of one’s head to be moved around is very exciting. We hope that a commercial model for both variants of the IPV is developed soon so that countries like India can become more wheelchair friendly for the public.