Compiled by Photonics Spectra staff
LULEÅ, Sweden – 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.
“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 wheelchair for an audience was carried out
in one of the corridors of the university’s 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 a
changing environment in which to move. “I feel safe when I run it. It is like
using a white cane,” Ahlmark said during the test, 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.