PROJECT III – STRATEGIES AND PLATFORMS FOR COLLABORATIVELY-CONTROLLED, ENVIRONMENTALLY-AWARE WHEELCHAIR INNOVATION
Introduction, Purpose and Objectives
We propose to develop a smart power wheelchair, whereby the term “smart” means a power wheelchair whose motion is mediated by a computerized system which is aware of the environment and can collaborate with the user to achieve mobility goals and avoid dangerous situations. We plan to build on existing work by members of the team who have already developed a wheelchair which detects obstacles using computer vision, stops the wheelchair and suggests a clear path. While there have been many previous smart wheelchair initiatives, none has sought as much feedback from as a broad range of stakeholders as we do, nor focused on the aging demographic. Our proposed wheelchair will be capable of operation beyond institutional type settings (e.g., outdoors) and will add vocal prompting features to assist users with memory challenges (e.g., “It is time for lunch. If you would like to go to the dining room, please drive through the door on the left.”). More importantly, we will use feedback from stakeholders to identify other goals which the smart wheelchair might help to accomplish (Project I, Phases 1 and 2), and to assess how effectively our prototypes are at accomplishing those goals (Project I, Phase 3). In between, we will develop strategies to accomplish newly-identified goals which may involve additional sensors, computing and/or interfaces.
Recognizing that the aging population has diverse and dynamic needs, we will also define and publicly release common hardware and software design platforms which will permit us (and others) to easily customize the wheelchair to individual users and adapt the wheelchair as the user ages. These platforms will also make it easier for researchers and commercial developers to add new capabilities, sensors and interfaces, as well as to migrate to new computer and wheelchair models as they become available. We will construct prototypes of the smart wheelchair in order to obtain feedback from a broad range of stakeholders during the project (Project I, Phase 3) and serve as a starting point for future commercialization efforts and additional studies.
RESEARCH METHODS AND PLAN
This project has four Phases, including integrated feedback loops for a successful design process.
Phase 1: Work with Project I to determine, via focus groups, how the current obstacle avoidance system could be improved, and what other needs the smart wheelchair might serve. At the same time, we will study adaptation of the current system to outdoor and non-institutional settings, add more responsive vocal prompting, and choose a common software platform for future design.
Phase 2: Choose additional features identified through the focus groups, determine how to achieve them, and create prototypes for subsequent focus groups and testing.
Phase 3: Using an iterative design process, refine existing features, add new ones as appropriate, and collect feedback on prototypes through collaboration with focus groups and observational studies in Project I.
Phase 4: Deliver a final set of capstone prototypes which could be used in future studies and commercialization efforts.