On September 20, Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) unveiled an intelligent wheelchair that relies on an omnidirectional camera for a view of its surroundings, avoids collisions with people and obstacles, and knows when something is wrong with the chair's occupant. Developed with the cooperation of the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities, the new technology is expected to improve the safety and security of electric wheelchairs for the disabled and elderly.
While the increased prevalence of electric wheelchairs has improved the mobility of persons with serious disabilities, they have also resulted in an increased number of collisions and accidents. To boost wheelchair safety, AIST engineers incorporated elements of intelligent automotive systems, which are capable of calculating the risk of collisions before they happen and automatically applying the brakes when necessary.
The prototype wheelchair is equipped with a camera system -- interestingly dubbed Stereo Omnidirectional System (SOS) -- whose 360-degree field of vision has no blind spot. Relying on the camera images, the chair detects potential hazards that arise while in motion and decelerates or stops accordingly. The chair also checks the occupant for signs of abnormality (unusual posture) and is equipped with a function that allows the occupant to control the chair by gesturing (pointing). Check out the AIST press release for videos of the chair in action.
The wheelchair is currently equipped with a function for transmitting the camera's color video via wireless LAN, and AIST is investigating the possibility of enabling the video to be delivered via cellular phone and providing support for remote-control functions. AIST will soon subject the prototype to rigorous testing and continue upgrading the functions.
This intelligent wheelchair technology will be demonstrated at the 2006 Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition scheduled for September 27 to 29 in Tokyo.