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Future Wheelchairs

January 17, 2011

Engineers are designing electric-powered wheelchairs that can identify and respond to the type of terrain they’re on.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Wheelchairs of the futureā€¦I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Electric wheelchairs help many disabled people live fuller lives. But operating them on surfaces like gravel, mud, or wet grass can be hazardous. Now, Florida A&M University roboticist Emmanuel Collins and his colleagues are designing an electric wheelchair navigation system which works like an automatic transmission in an automobile.

EMMANUEL COLLINS (Florida A&M University):
We’re changing the settings of the joystick that the driver uses to control the electric powered wheelchair so that they become more like an expert off-road driver.

HIRSHON:
He says the system will use a laser sensor to detect the type of terrain the wheelchair is about to encounter.

COLLINS:
If we sense that you’re on wet grass, then we know that you don’t want to accelerate too quickly because the vehicle will slip. But the joystick setting will make it so that it’s very difficult for the driver to stop too quickly or accelerate too quickly.

HIRSHON:
I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.