To someone in an electric wheelchair, terrain such as hills, rumps and steep climbs are simply too difficult to cross alone.
To address this problem, researchers at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering are working on technology that will enable electric-powered wheelchairs to detect hazardous terrain and automatically adjust their control settings to maneuver more safely.
Emmanuel Collins is the John H. Seely Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the college and director of Florida State's Center for Intelligent Systems, Control and Robotics (http://www.eng.fsu.edu/ciscor/
) (CISCOR). He said that a device known as a laser line striper, originally developed for military use, has been adapted to classify terrain conditions so the wheelchair control system can self-adjust.
"I'm inspired by the idea of applying technology originally meant for the battlefield to improve the quality of everyday life for injured soldiers and others," Collins said.
Engineers had previously developed automatic terrain-sensing controls for military robotic vehicles, and several four-wheel-drive automobiles now on the market include such controls for improved safety. So, Collins wondered, why not integrate this type of system into electric-powered wheelchairs to provide more mobility and independence for their operators?
Collins' team, working with colleagues from the University of Pittsburgh, began experiments this year to add instrumentation based on current driving control systems. The new technology is designed to enable an electric-powered wheelchair to detect hazardous terrain and implement safe driving strategies while avoiding wheel slip, sinkage or vehicle tipping.