By Elton Gomes
Three students from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore, have developed a self-driving wheelchair that can safely transport a user from one place to another by navigating its own path and avoiding any obstacles in the way.
The three final year students Chinta Ravi Teja, Sarath Sreekanth, and Akhil Raj received assistance from their professor in developing the self-driving wheelchair, and have been working as junior researchers at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham’s Humanitarian Technology Lab for two years.
The wheelchair operates on a Robotic Operating System (ROS), and can be navigated with the help of a smartphone app. The revolutionary wheelchair has been named “Self-E” and creates a map of the surrounding place and points out static and dynamic obstacles with the help of the ROS. Additionally, it uses a laser sensor and displays obstacles via the app. The user can touch any point on the generated map, and the wheelchair will drive itself to that point automatically.
One of the innovators of Self-E, Teja said, “The self-driving wheelchair allows patients to be easily transported from one place to another anywhere at a hospital, airport or even a home. If patients are able to operate a smartphone, they are relieved from the continuous use of traditional joystick to steer the wheelchair.”
With a simple touch on the map displayed on the mobile screen, the wheelchair takes them to the destination. They can have complete control over the wheelchair without anyone’s help. On the other hand, if some patients have a problem in using a smartphone, a friend or family member or assistant can use the Android App to transport them without the need to physically push the wheelchair, as reported by the Deccan Chronicle.
Dr. Rajesh Kannan Megalingam, assistant professor and the students’ mentor, said, “The unique Self-E self-driving wheelchair now needs to be tested in different environments like hospitals and airports with patients and wheelchair users. We hope to commercialize the product,” as per an IANS report. The self-driving wheelchair comes at a time when the differently abled have access to a mere 3% of buildings in India.
Ways in which Self-E can help
A report in the Wire mentions that India needs to transition from ‘charity-based approach’ to a ‘rights-based approach’ regarding differently abled people. The report claims that a large population of Indians view people with disabilities as an object of ‘sympathy’ and ‘pity,’ thereby leading to their “othering.” Self-E can be helpful here as it attempts to make disabled people self-dependent.
The wheelchair combines technology and innovation, in that users operate a smartphone in order to travel from place to place. India needs to stop looking at disabled people with apathy. Rather than simply changing words to display inclusivity, India needs effective disability rights.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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