People who are tetraplegic have to rely heavily on others to move from one place to another. However, if the clinical trials of a muscle movement-operated wheelchair come to fruition, things might change radically for them.
Developed by PSG Group of Institutions, the wheelchair will offer cost-effective yet self-reliant locomotory assistance for individuals with restricted mobility.
With the help of biosensors, this one-of-a-kind wheelchair recognizes muscle movements and it utilizes the signals to move in a specific direction.
"Muscle movements generate muscle potential, which is detected by bio-compatible surface sensors. These signals are then sent to the microcontroller, which instructs the wheelchair to move," Lakshmi Deepika, coordinator of the industry-institute partnership cell at PSG College of Technology explained.
People with Tetraplegia (a.k.a. quadriplegia), which is basically paralysis caused due to illness or injury that lead to either partial or complete loss of use of all four limbs and torso, can still move their shoulders, Dr. V Ramamoorthy, professor and head of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research noted.
"I gave them the feedback that we received from our patients, who were using joystick-operated wheelchairs," he told Times of India.
A few research studies later, they discovered that muscle movement can be used to set the wheelchair in motion.
With the help of N Subashini, an assistant professor of the Biomedical Engineering Department at PSG College of Technology, Lakshmi Deepika documented the muscle activities of ten students on campus. "While we knew the muscle movement could trigger the movement of the wheelchair, we had to identify specific muscle movements and detect their patterns," A. Parthiban, a senior physiotherapist at PSGIMS&R pointed out.
They compiled a set of muscle movements that indicated they can use the movement of the upper trapezius on the left and right shoulders as well as the movement of eyebrow muscles and the forehead.
Each muscle potential results in a unique pattern on EMG (electromyography). Applying these patterns, the microcontroller identifies the source of the muscle and moves in the specific direction, Lakshmi Deepika explained.
This is ideal for moving forward and backward; however, moving to left and right was quite a challenge since the muscle potential from left and right shoulders generated identical patterns.
To fix this up, they disconnected the circuits for the sensors on both left as well as right shoulder, Parthiban added.
The wheelchair boasts ultrasound sensors that play a vital role in detecting obstacles. The newfangled wheelchair is designed to stop one meter before any sort of impediment.
Aside from that, it has vision sensors that notify the user of people behind. If the wheelchair detects people, it will sound a buzzer that will persuade people to move away from the way, according to Subashini.
Moreover, the wheelchair is also operatable with a remote. There is an Android application that the wheelchair user can install to control it through Bluetooth.
While the Bluetooth range in the prototype is 100m, it can be increased, Subashini said. The wheelchair's life expectancy is five years, she added.
The Department of Science and Technology Government of India picked up the project check. According to Lakshmi Deepika, the wheelchair developers received a whopping 35,00,000 INR (about $53,553).
"It took three years for us to develop the prototype," she said.
A Coimbatore, India-based Company has extended a helping hand by offering to manufacture the wheelchair. The estimated cost of a wheelchair is about 60,000 INR (about $918), Lakshmi Deepika said.
The ethical committee has already permitted the team to conduct clinical trials.
They will carry out trials on about 20-30 patients and get their feedback. Based on the response, the team will make adjustments, if needed.
According to Dr. Ramamoorthy, the clinical trial will take nearly three months. In the meantime, the team is prepping to apply for a patent.
(Image: SGENET / Pixabay)