Japanese researchers, never at a loss for concepts mashing up domestic and medical care with the best in robotics, has developed a robotic wheelchair that automatically follows a human companion.
Born of Saitama University’s Human-Robot Interaction Center, the wheelchair employs a distance sensor that tracks the position of a companion person, keeping the wheelchair always at the person’s left. It also tracks the position of the companion’s shoulders, anticipating where that person is moving next. Even if the companion stand in place and simply rotates, the chair will circle around to remain abreast of the companion.
Unless, that is, the corridor narrows or other foot traffic is approaching or there is an obstacle or a narrow corridor. The wheelchair makes decisions about upcoming terrain and objects, avoiding obstacles and dropping into single file if the passage ahead is too narrow or there are lots of people approaching from the opposite direction.
The ‘bot is aimed at helping care workers in facilities move elderly folks around more efficiently — more than one wheelchair can follow a single companion at the same time — and to allow better interaction between the person in the chair and the companion. After all, it’s touch to keep a conversation going when you’re always walking one behind the other.
Learn more about the technology and see the wheelchair in motion in the video below.