September 2, 2011

Autonomous Wheelchair

Computer Scientists from Freie Universität Berlin Present Novelty at IFA

(September 2, 2011)  Computer scientists from Freie Universität Berlin demonstrated a new type of wheelchair at IFA, an international trade fair for home electronics. The wheelchair, on loan from the Otto Bock company, makes it significantly easier to navigate inside buildings. It is equipped with laser and camera sensors and a computer under the seat. Laser sensors detect the position of walls and obstacles and prevent collisions. A so-called Kinect, developed for Microsoft Xbox 360 game consoles, is also mounted on the wheelchair. The sensor detects the three-dimensional structure of the environment and can, for example, prevent the collision of the wheelchair with people. Demonstrations and explanations are available in videos on YouTube.

A camera is installed for steering using eye movements. To cause the wheelchair go to the right or left, the user needs only to glance toward the right or left. Accelerating and braking are triggered by looking upward or downward. For steering by thought, the wheelchair user wears a cap with 16 sensors that continuously measure brain activation. The system is trained to distinguish four brain patterns: drive left, drive right, accelerate, and brake. After a training period, the user should be able to steer the wheelchair just by thinking. A great deal of concentration is required, as ideally the user should think of only the four practiced patterns the entire time. Since obstacles automatically cause the wheelchair to stop, the person remains accident-free in any case. Previously, the group had demonstrated steering a car using only brain power.

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