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Artificial intelligence-based wheelchair that can be controlled with expressions? Read more

Wheelchairs are mobility devices that enable people to move around. They are vital for people who cannot walk on their own, giving them freedom and independence.

Wheelchairs come in various designs options, from simple hand driven ones to motorized and advanced wheelchairs. Designers are constantly looking at ways to make them as accessible as possible.

The motorized version can be controlled usually with a joystick or sensors that are connected to the body of the user. For some people with very limited ability to move limbs this complicated tool operating option is not convenient at all.

Their lives could become much easier, now that artificial intelligence (AI) could open doors to people moving their wheelchairs using facial expressions.

Sounds impossible? Well, the technology to make this happen is being developed by Brazil-based companyHoobox Robotics. It has teamed up with technology company Intel to create Wheelie 7. Wheelie 7 is a kit based on artificial intelligence that allows a person to move the wheelchair using 10 facial expressions.

These expressions involve moving the eyebrows, a full smile, half smile, blowing a kiss, sticking out the tongue, blowing cheeks, chin movement, and wrinkling the face. These expressions of a user can be fed to the kit and are then linked to the wheelchair movements via an app. The kit can be installed in just seven minutes and it is ready for use.

How will this help change the lives of wheelchair users? Newz Hook spoke to a few of them to find out. Dr Riitesh Sinha, an innovator and writer with cerebral palsy, believes this technology can be a life changer for people with disabilities.

"There are many situations where only facial expressions/eyes retain movement and the person loses control over the rest of his body. Even when the brain is functioning absolutely fine. This AI- wheelchair will be a disruptive product for sure and breathe in life-giving oxygen for people who are locked forever by their disabilities."

Dr Sinha adds that for the product to benefit the maximum possible people, it must be affordable. "I am extremely happy to see such products being tested. When a person moves, he exists. A bedridden life is really difficult. What will need to be seen is the control because facial movements might not be very pointed and accurate. Also, the product needs to be scalable so it is affordable and has the maximum reach."

The wheelchair can be of immense assistance to people with spinal injuries and those with very restricted physical movements. It is currently being tested by 60 wheelchair users in the United States, including quadriplegics, senior citizens and people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

The best feature of the Wheelie 7 kit is that it is compatible with most of the motorized wheelchairs that are currently available.

The creation is above the sky, but there is one issue when it comes to using it in a country like India because the person will be looking at the sensor and if he or she is outdoors and we look at the sensor for movement, cars can yet bang you! We need an innovation first for people so they follow the rules and become friendly towards #differentlynormal people! But if it's used just for indoor use, it's perfect. - Karan S Shahh, Canine Trainer-Behaviourist

Clearly, its early days yet for this innovative tech but what is heartening to see is the work being done towards developing more and more accessible assistive technologies so people with disabilities can lead independent lives.

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