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'Sighted' Wheelchair Successfully Test-Driven

Photonics.com
May 2011
LULEå, Sweden, May 19, 2011 — An electric wheelchair that uses a laser scanner to create a 3-D map of its surroundings and transfers the information to a haptic robot, enabling a visually impaired driver to navigate around obstacles, has been successfully tested. The “sighted” wheelchair was developed at Luleå University of Technology (LTU) by professor Kalevi Hyyppä and his team. Daniel Innala Ahlmark, a prospective graduate student in the research project, and himself visually impaired, made the first public test.

The other members of the research team are assistant professor Håkan Fredriksson and doctoral student Fredrik Broström.


Daniel Innala Ahlmark, a doctoral student at LTU, tests the "sighted" wheelchair. (Images: LTU)

“This may be [an] important [aid] for the visually impaired who are wheelchair users. Many have already been in touch with me and asked if they can come for a test drive,” Hyyppä said.

The first test of the “sighted” wheelchair for an audience was carried out at the university in one of the corridors of the department of computer science, electrical and space engineering.

There are several classrooms in the corridor, which means that students pass there often. For those who are visually impaired or blind, it is quite a changing environment in which to move. Ahlmark tested the wheelchair while explaining how he experienced it — and he did so before the entire national media in Sweden.

“I feel safe when I run it. It is like using a white cane," he said, as he avoided various obstacles along the corridor.

The team, however, indicated that there is much left to do when it comes to improving the 3-D sensor and the haptic robot. For example, the laser beam that sweeps in front of the wheelchair hits objects that are only a certain height. The researchers plan to develop a 3-D camera that can do a full 3-D measurement. After that, the sighted wheelchair can be manufactured for consumers. This might be possible in about five years, they believe.

Research on the sighted wheelchair is being funded by the European Regional Structural Fund Northern Sweden.

For more information, visit: www.ltu.se/research


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