Having a wheelchair that can sense its surroundings would give those with vision impairment freedom to be more mobile. Researchers at the Lulea University of Technology, Sweden have successfully tested just such a “sighted” wheelchair.
Developed by professor Kalevi Hyyppa and his team at the LTU division EISLAB, this electric wheelchair is outfitted with a navigation laser scanner that provides virtual 3D maps of the surroundings, sending feedback about any obstructions to the user via a haptic interface. This lets the user “see and feel” potential obstacles like open doors or pedestrians and use the mounted joystick to navigate around them without colliding.
There are still glitches to be ironed out before this remarkable innovation makes it into commercial use like improving the 3D sensor so it can see things both higher and lower than its height. Researchers anticipate it could be 5 years until this 21st century electric cane would be available but what a difference it will make!