Canadian researchers have developed a self-driving wheelchair

Man in motorized wheelchair

A team of Canadian researchers and robotics experts have developed technology that will allow wheelchairs to drive autonomously.

In a partnership between Toronto-based Cyberworks Robotics and the University of Toronto, researchers found that using types of sensors that are similar to those found in self-driving cars can help motorized wheelchairs navigate on their own without assistance from the user.

What’s more, they say they’ve managed to make the process cost-effective by creating a product that costs between $300 and $700. Previous autonomous wheelchair designs could cost upwards of $30,000.

In practice, a three-dimensional sensor is affixed to a bar attached to the front of the wheelchair, which can pick up on objects about 5 metres away. The sensor will then chart a course for the wheelchair that avoids upcoming obstacles, travels safely through open doors and more. Relevant information is also uploaded to a small on-board computer.

However, the device is still a work in progress, with researchers saying it struggles to operate in full sunlight and is currently only intended for indoor use.

According to University of Toronto professor and principal investigator Jonathan Kelly, the idea came from from the desire to help wheelchair users with upper-body disabilities that limited their movements, such as hand tremors, ALS or spinal cord injuries.

Kelly told The Canadian Press that those with such conditions can’t control the joystick found on most power chairs and have to resort to eye-tracking technology or “sip and puff” devices (which are similar to large straws) instead.

The developers say they hope to make the wheelchair commercially viable “in the near future.”

Image credit: Pixabay

Source: The Record