Tucked away in a small booth, far away from the big brands that dominate IFA 2011 in Berlin is the Autonomous Wheelchair of Freie Universtat Berlin. I’m all for smarter phones, bigger TVs and cooler tablets, but wheelchair is one of the highlights of the show since it is one of the few products here that helps solve a real problem.
Electric wheelchair users usually control their movements with a joystick that is attached to the chair’s arm. While this solution is generally ok, it can be difficult to navigate around obstacles and in tight spaces. The researchers are aiming to solve this problem by combining Microsoft’s Kinect, a netbook and some custom software. The autonomous wheelchair can navigate to pre-selected waypoints.
The Micorosft Kinect scans ahead of the wheelchair to spot obstacles and adjust the route to avoid them. The people behind this concept hope to work with wheelchair manufactures so that it can plug into existing wheelchair controls to keep the cost of the system as low as possible.
One thing I love about a lot of university technology projects is that the researchers and students tend to focus on how to solve problems rather than worrying about market potential.
The Microsoft Kinect was introduced about a year ago to allow XBOX 360 users to play games without a controller. The Kinect packs a lot of technology into a $149 package, including an infrared sensor and camera.
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