It may not be mind-controlled, but the smart wheelchair designed by Lehigh University researchers is still pretty impressive. The wheelchair, built with money from a $480,000 National Science Foundation grant, harnesses a light detection and ranging (LiDAR) system to sense obstacles, including poles, parking meters, trees and corners.
Believe it or not, the LiDAR-for-wheelchairs technology isn’t entirely new–it has been a component of smart wheelchairs in the past–but Lehigh amped up the laser goodness with a system that cross-references information from an onboard 3-D map system with LiDAR-based maps. The wheelchair might eventually come with software that predicts moving objects like cards and pedestrians.
The Lehigh wheelchair probably won’t be released commercially anytime soon. The LiDAR technology currently in use by the university researchers is too expensive to be viable, and the team has yet to come up with a system that uses cheaper LiDAR and sonars. Regardless, this latest smart wheelchair is part of a larger trend of smart technology being used to assist the disabled. Some other recent examples: the smart cane, Braille touchscreens, and the car for the blind.