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Wheelchairs Get Robotic Retrofit to Become Self-Driving

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Members of the research team that developed a system to make electric wheelchairs partly or fully autonomous.

Researchers at the University of Toronto are using improved sensors and artificial intelligence to make electric wheelchairs self-driving.

Credit: University of Toronto

Researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) in Canada have used sensors and artificial intelligence to create self-driving electric wheelchairs.

Rather than designing a new autonomous wheelchair from scratch, the researchers focused on retrofitting existing wheelchairs using sensors, controllers, and a small computer. In addition, the team wrote software and developed algorithms to handle many common situations, including driving down narrow corridors and avoiding obstacles.

The next step will be to test the wheelchair in controlled environments under the supervision of occupational therapists, according to U of T researcher Jonathan Kelly.

The system could be a significant improvement over sip-and-puff (SNP) controllers, which control a wheelchair by having the user sip or puff air into a plastic straw that is connected to a computer. SNP controllers are an alternative to joysticks, but they can make complex tasks overwhelming.

From University of Toronto
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