Rolling Without Limits

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The Self-driving Wheelchair is Here
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The Self-driving Wheelchair is Here

Wheelchairs have been a great help to people with limited mobility. However, there are wheelchair users who cannot thoroughly navigate their mobility device. That is why experts continuously redesign chairs to meet these specific needs which eventually paved the way for creating the self-driving wheelchair.

According to survey, there are more than four million users of electric or battery powered wheelchairs in United States alone. About 40% of these wheelchair users find it difficult or nearly impossible to steer and maneuver their mobility device on a daily basis. For this reason, a team of experts were motivated to create a smart wheelchair that can navigate autonomously.

Martin Gerdzev, a graduate student and one of the engineers behind the self-driving wheelchair, stated they are aiming to give wheelchair using individuals more freedom. Gerdzev and his team are working on the wheelchair they call as the SmartWheeler at Montreal’s public research university, McGill University.

A wheelchair that can navigate by itself is definitely beneficial to wheelchair bound individuals suffering from tetraplegia or quadriplegia (a condition wherein both upper and lower extremities are paralyzed), those who have lesser upper body strength and those with cognitive or intellectual impairments.

The SmartWheeler operates using distance sensors. Odometry is also applied, which is the utilization of pertinent data taken by the motion sensors in order to give an estimate needed to move or change a position over time. A navigation manager as well as a motor controller is also incorporated in the self-driving wheelchair.

Joelle Pineau, a computer scientist working at McGill and also the one leading the SmartWheeler project, said that with all the automation seen and going on globally, their project will be warmly welcomed and accepted by many since a lot of people are looking at the improvement and upgrading of assistive devices. However, the drawback of designing and creating such high tech device is the difficulty of convincing insurance companies and health agencies of the government to give financial support since this kind of stuff will be quite expensive, Pineau added.

But they will not worry about it at the moment because the project is still in its early days. It is still a research prototype and still has a number of limitations. It needs a lot of improvement and testing to be released in the market. But every member of the team will work hard to produce that much-needed, state-of-the-art, self-driving wheelchair.

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