Monday, August 2, 2010

Wheelchair For People With No Motor Control

People who are severely disabled and have zero motor control often can not move independently. Most wheelchair technology requires some kind of physical movement in order to be able to steer it. For example, if a wheelchair user can only move their heads, an device can be strapped to their heads so which will allow the wheelchair to be steered by head movement. Or if a wheelchair user can only use their mouths, a device can be strapped to the mouth. What about wheelchair users who have no motor control at all? For example, people with locked in syndrome who are essentially "locked-in" to their bodies, completely paralyzed with no ability to communicate or move?

Devices are under development for people with sever disabilities and have no motor control. One is a device which allows wheelchair users to control their wheelchair by "sniffing" and another by eye movement. Most people with locked in syndrome or other types of sever paralysis can move their eyes and can sniff. There are two types of wheelchair technologies under development for these severly disabled people.

Several groups are working on eye controlled wheelchairs. For example, the Eye Com corporation is developing the The Eye-Com EC7T™ eye tracking system which uses frame-mounted microcameras to record eyelid and pupil activity and convert that movement to wheelchair steering.

Here is a video from two final year engineering students (Robotics and Biomedical) from Swinburne University (Melbourne, Australia) using eye controlled technology:



The sniffing technology appears to be equally promising.

Developed by Prof. Noam Sobel, electronics engineers Dr. Anton Plotkin and Aharon Weissbrod and research student Lee Sela in the Weizmann Institute’s Neurobiology Department, the new system identifies changes in air pressure inside the nostrils and translates these into electrical signals. The device was tested on healthy volunteers as well as quadriplegics, and the results showed that the method is easily mastered. Users were able to navigate a wheelchair around a complex path or play a computer game with nearly the speed and accuracy of a mouse or joystick.


Watch this video of the wheelchair controlled by sniff technology.

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