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Are self-driving wheelchairs the new frontier in automation?
Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are developing self-driving technology for powerchairs to assist those who are confined in their motions. This will enable them to independently direct their wheelchair.
The project was inspired by a visit to a retirement home, where MIT researcher Daniela Rus noticed there weren’t enough staff to take the wheelchair-bound where they wanted to go.
Inspirational self-driving innovation
The current prototype, modeled on driverless cars, is first manually operated throughout a set location, mapping the environment. This mapping will note the length and width of spaces and where pillars and other stationary obstacles are. Once the area has been mapped, the user can select their end location, and the chair will navigate the terrain. The chairs will also be able to recognise moving obstacles like people or other wheelchairs.
The MIT team is currently looking into pilot programs in Boston and Singapore, which would accelerate the technology. They are hoping the technology will eventually move into the open market. There’s still a way to go until this programming would function indoors and outdoors. This could well be the next big thing in automation and wheelchair innovation. Watch this space!