The advent of power wheelchairs brought with it enormous implications for individuals who have lost the use of their legs or ability to walk. A new research has taken it to the next level, designing a next-generation power wheelchair of immense implications. A Japanese researcher has now invented a wheelchair that takes mobility for the disabled a notch higher. The innovation is the brainchild of Masaharu Komori, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Kyoto University. Whereas existing power wheelchairs move only back and forth, the new wheelchair can move in any direction, without having to spin a user. Rather, the omnidirectional power wheelchair moves in all directions using rollers placed in the wheels. The wheelchair is called the Personal Mobile Vehicle or Permoveh.
The wheel design features a wheel-within-wheel system. The rollers are incorporated in the normal, traditional wheels, but with 32 rollers per wheel. To make any-directional turn, the wheels rotate in a perpendicular direction to the rim. The system eliminates the need to spin around and the space needed, when taking a 360° turn as for traditional wheelchairs. The wheelchair is driven through a hand controlled lever. Like the lever on the PS2 game pad, the driver simply needs to push it in the desired direction. The wheels execute a number of maneuvers to attain the omnidirectional capability. In 2009, Researchers in Japan developed a brain-machine interface (BMI) system that allows for control of a wheelchair using thought.
For the new invention, the backward or forward move is automatically initiated by the wheelchair. However, to take a sideways direction, only the rollers move, while the diagonal directional is possible with the movement of the wheels and rollers. The wheelchair gives users more autonomy especially when maneuvering in small spaces. Whereas the viability of the system is still debatable, there is already talk of leveraging the technology in conveyor equipment used in warehouses or factories. The wheelchair may come in handy for the elderly, marking a continued series of assistive innovations targeted at helping the elderly. In 2010, an Auckland-based technology firm developed a robotic exoskeleton that gives wheelchair users the chance to walk again.
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