The idea of a self-driving, completely autonomous wheelchairs may sound like things straight out of a science fiction story, but the possibility of people in the disability community using them to get around is more likely than you think.
In fact, the technology is already moving through its early stages, and researchers are testing new types of autonomous wheelchairs more and more as time goes by.
The Latest Breakthrough in Technology
Researchers and professors of Rehabilitation Robotics at Northwestern University were recently featured in Digital Trends, where they showcased one of their most technologically advanced wheelchair models to date.
The team, led by assistant professor Brenna D. Argall, has been working towards creating a wheelchair model that can be operated by people with significant motor impairments – those that prevent people from operating wheelchairs with joysticks or other devices.
So far the process has been slow – creating an autonomous wheelchair is not like building self-driving cars, drones or other devices (we would love to one day see autonomous wheelchair vans!). Although creating something like a self-driving car has become a bit more routine, the problem is much more hard to solve when it comes to people with disabilities and their specific wheelchair needs.
Every person is different, and many times a person’s capabilities are unique to only them. Because of this, there really is no one-size-fits-all solution to wheelchair technology. Every autonomous wheelchair will have to be created specifically with one person and his or her abilities in mind. Otherwise, the chair may not fit them perfectly and won’t be able to suit all of their needs or cater to their specific abilities.
The problem is hard to solve, but doing so could be monumental for people with severe motor limitations and degenerative diseases. It could allow for people with these types of conditions to become more independent and increase their quality of life.
The technology is still a long ways away from being perfect, and even then, it’s not likely that insurance will cover it right away, but at least this research is a big leap in the right direction.
What do you think: do you think that researchers will be able to perfect this technology? How would it change your life or the life of someone you know? Join the conversation by commenting below!