For those paralyzed from the neck down, controlling a wheelchair even with a joystick is impossible. Researchers at Japan's Miyazaki University have created a wheelchair that solves that problem with electrodes affixed to the face. Certain motions will cause the wheelchair to move, stop, and turn--and it can all be done above the neck.
We've seen a lot of advanced wheelchairs and wheelchair accessories, from a Kinect-enabled cart to smarter voice-controlled chairs to solar-powered long-distance vehicles, but the ability to grant independent movement to someone with below-the-neck paralysis (the sometime result of ALS or muscular dystrophy) is new and pretty amazing.
An array of electrodes are attached to the face, and a few distinct motions control it. Clenching the jaw starts it moving forward, and a hard wink on either eye--hard enough to tense the cheek muscle, which triggers the electrode--indicates a turn. A second clenched jaw stops the chair.
The researchers experimented with allowing different speeds, but found that it was more effective to include a proximity sensor instead. The sensor detects if there are objects in the chair's path. A clear path ahead will increase the speed, while obstacles will decrease the speed until the chair finally stops a few feet from the obstacle.
In the future, the researchers plan to ditch the somewhat unsightly electrodes in favor of a system embedded in goggles, which will be wirelessly synced with the chair. Hopefully that's possible--the electrodes actually look pretty effective, and this chair could be a life-changing invention for those currently without independent movement.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.