Self-driving cars are the future automotive, and that’s evident with the amount of car manufacturers and technology giants getting involved. However, self-driving software and hardware are not only suitable for vehicles but wheelchairs as well.
In the future, a disabled person can have their self-driving car along with a self-driving wheelchair for when they exit the car. Cyberworks Robotics and the University of Toronto, are working together to make this future a reality.
This particular wheelchair would use similar sensors found in autonomous cars that are designed to travel routes without the assistance from the user, along with dodging obstacles. Autonomous wheelchair designs in the past could cost consumers upwards of $30,000, but what the team at Cyberworks Robotics and the University of Toronto are working on has the potential of costing $300 to $700.
That’s a significant reduction in cost, although things can change before an official release date if there’s ever going to be one.
According to a report from The Star, the technology is still in development, and as of right now, it doesn’t work well outdoors when the sun is shining. In fact, it’s designed for indoor use, but the creators are hoping to change this in the near future when the product is ready for commercialization.
Autonomous wheelchair could reduce fatigue
A person in a wheelchair is usually required to use his or her arms to get around. The constant need to navigate with both arms can be tiring and frustrating at the same time. Furthermore, folks with secondary disabilities might not be able to control their wheelchairs, henceforth, this new idea could be a major solution.
According to University of Toronto professor and principal investigator Jonathan Kelly, the concept of self-driving wheelchairs has been around for quite some time, but the project in development today has been on the cards for two years.
The idea behind this wheelchair was initially targeting users with upper body disabilities such as spinal cord injuries and ALS. Even if a wheelchair has a joystick for easy navigation, these folks will find it next to impossible to get around.
“All of these technologies are extremely difficult to use and very tedious to use. They’re basically exhausting,” Kelly said of the currently available options. “For users with these types of mobility impairments, if we can enable autonomous navigation, it could really dramatically enhance their quality of life.”
The technology is not about creating new wheelchairs
Kelly says the plan is to build the software and sensors for current wheelchairs instead of an entirely new product. The three-dimensional sensor will be attached to the front of any supported wheelchair, and from there, it should be able to track objects up to five meters away.
Similar to self-driving cars, the system should possess the ability to avoid objects while automatically moving from one destination to the next.
Time will tell if this technology makes it into the manufacturing phase for mass market consumer consumption in the coming years.